It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live

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titreIt was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live
date de publication13.11.2016
taille2.13 Mb.
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It was the summer that men first walked on the moon. I was very young back then, but I did not believe there would ever be a future. I wanted to live dangerously, to push myself as far as I could go, and then see what happened to me when I got there. As it turned out, I nearly did not make it. Little by little, I saw my money dwindle to zero; I lost my apartment; I wound up living in the streets. If not for a girl named Kitty Wu, I probably would have starved to death. I had met her by chance only a short time before, but eventually I came to see that chance as a form of readiness, a way of saving myself through the minds of others. That was the first part. From then on, strange things happened to me. I took the job with the old man in the wheelchair. I found out who my father was. I walked across the desert from Utah to California. That was a long time ago, of course, but I remember those days well, I remember them as the beginning of my life.

I came to New York in the fall of 1965. I was eighteen years old then, and for the first nine months I lived in a college dor­mitory. All out-of-town freshmen at Columbia were required to live on campus, but once the term was over I moved into an apartment on West 112th Street. That was where I lived for the next three years, right up to the moment when I finally hit bottom; Considering the odds against me, it was a miracle I lasted as long as I did.

I lived in that apartment with over a thousand books. They had originally belonged to my Uncle Victor, and he had collected them slowly over the course of about thirty years. Just before I went off to college, he impulsively offered them to me as a going- away present. I did my best to refuse, but Uncle Victor was a sentimental and generous man, and he would not let me turn him down. "I have no money to give you," he said, "and not one word of advice. Take the books to make me happy." I took the books, but for the next year and a half I did not open any of the boxes they were stored in. My plan was to persuade my uncle to take the books back, and in the meantime I did not want anything to rapper, to them.

As it turned out, the boxes were quite useful to me in that state.The apartment on 112th Street was unfurnished, and rather squander my funds on things I did not want and could not afford, I converted the boxes into several pieces of "imaginary furniture." It was a little like working on a puzzle: grouping the cartons into various modular configurations, lining them up in rows, stacking them one on top of another, arranging and re­arranging them until they finally began to resemble household objects. One set of sixteen served as the support for my mattress, another set of twelve became a table, others of seven became chairs, another of two became a bedstand, and so on. The overall effect was rather monochromatic, what with that somber light brown everywhere you looked, but I could not help feeling proud of my resourcefulness. My friends found it a bit odd, but they had learned to expect odd things from me by then. Think of the sat­isfaction, I would explain to them, of crawling into bed and knowing that your dreams are about to take place on top of nineteenth- century American literature. Imagine the pleasure of sitting down to a meal with the entire Renaissance lurking below your food. In point of fact, I had no idea which books were in which boxes, but I was a great one for making up stories back then, and I liked the sound of those sentences, even if they were false.

My imaginary furniture remained intact for almost a year. Then, in the spring of 1967, Uncle Victor died. This death was a terrible blow for me; in many ways it was the worst blow I had ever had. Not only was Uncle Victor the person I had loved most in the world, he was my only relative, my one link to something larger than myself. Without him I felt bereft, utterly scorched by fate. If I had been prepared for his death somehow, it might have been easier for me to contend with. But how does one prepare for the death of a fifty-two-year-old man whose health has always been good? My uncle simply dropped dead one fine afternoon in the middle of April, and at that point my life began to change, I began to vanish into another world.

There is not much to tell about my family. The cast of char­acters was small, and most of them did not stay around very long. I lived with my mother until I was eleven, but then she was killed in a traffic accident, knocked down by a bus that skidded out of control in the Boston snow. There was never any father in the picture, and so it had just been the two of us, my mother and I. The fact that she used her maiden name was proof that she had never been married, but I did not learn that I was illegitimate until after she was dead. As a small boy, it never occurred to me to ask questions about such things. I was Marco Fogg, and my mother was Emily Fogg, and my uncle in Chicago was Victor Fogg. We were all Foggs, and it made perfect sense that people from the same family should have the same name. Later on, Uncle Victor told me that his father's name had originally been Fogelman, but someone in the immigration offices at Ellis Island had truncated it to Fog, with one g, and this had served as the family's American name until the second g was added in 1907. Fogel meant bird, my uncle informed me, and I liked the idea of having that creature embedded in who I was. I imagined that some valiant ancestor of mine had once actually been able to fly. A bird flying through fog, I used to think, a giant bird flying across the ocean, not stopping until it reached America.
I don't have any pictures of my mother, and it is difficult for me to remember what she looked like. Whenever I see her in my mind, I come upon a short, dark-haired woman with thin child's wrists and delicate white fingers, and suddenly, every so often, I can remember how good it felt to be touched by those fingers. She is always very young and pretty when I see her, and that is probably correct, since she was only twenty-nine when she died. We lived in a number of small apartments in Boston and Cam­bridge, and I believe she worked for a textbook company of some sort, although I was too young to have any sense of what she did there. What stands out most vividly for me are the times we went to the movies together (Randolph Scott Westerns, War of the Worlds, Pinocchio), and how we would sit in the darkness of the theater, working our way through a box of popcorn and holding hands. She was capable of telling jokes that sent me into fits of raucous giggling, but that happened only rarely, when the planets were in the right conjunction. More often than not she was dreamy, given to mild sulks, and there were times when I felt a true sadness emanating from her, a sense that she was battling against some vast and internal disarray. As I grew older, she left me at home with baby-sitters more and more often, but I did not understand what these mysterious departures of hers meant until much later, long after she was dead. With my father, however, all was a blank, both during and after. That was the one subject my mother refused to discuss with me, and whenever I asked the question, she would not budge. "He died a long time ago," she would say, "before you were born." There was no evidence of him anywhere in the house. Not one photograph, not even a name. For want of some­thing to cling to, I imagined him as a dark-haired version of Buck Rogers, a space traveler who had passed into the fourth dimension and could not find his way back.

My mother was buried next to her parents in West lawn Cem­etery, and after that I went to live with Uncle Victor on the North Side of Chicago. Much of that early period is lost to me now, but I apparently moped around a lot and did my fair share of sniffling, sobbing myself to sleep at night like some pathetic orphan hero in a nineteenth-century novel. At one point, a foolish woman acquaintance of Victor's ran into us on the street and started crying when she was introduced to me, dabbing her eyes with a hand­kerchief and blubbering on about how I must be poor Emmie's love child. I had not heard that term before, but I could tell that it hinted at gruesome and unfortunate things. When I asked Uncle Victor to explain it to me, he invented an answer I have always remembered. "All children are love children," he said, "but only the best ones are ever called that."

My mother's older brother was a spindly, beak-nosed bachelor of forty-three who earned his living as a clarinetist. Like all the Foggs, he had a penchant for aimlessness and reverie, for sudden bolts and lengthy torpors. After a promising start as a member of the Cleveland Orchestra, these traits eventually got the better of him. He overslept rehearsals, showed up at performances without his tie, and once had the effrontery to tell a dirty joke within earshot of the Bulgarian concertmaster. After he was sacked, Victor bounced around with a number of lesser orchestras, each one a little worse than the one before, and by the time he returned to Chicago in 1953, he had learned to accept the mediocrity of his career. When I moved in with him in February of 1958, he was giving lessons to beginning clarinet students and playing for Howie Dunn's Moonlight Moods, a small combo that made the usual rounds of weddings, confirmations, and graduation parties. Victor knew that he lacked ambition, but he also knew that there were other things in the world besides music. So many things, in fact, that he was often overwhelmed by them. Being the sort of person who always dreams of doing something else while occupied, he could not sit down to practice a piece without pausing to work out a chess problem in his head, could not play chess without thinking about the failures of the Chicago Cubs, could not go to the ballpark without considering some minor character in Shake­speare, and then, when he finally got home, could not sit down with his book for more than twenty minutes without feeling the urge to play his clarinet. Wherever he was, then, and wherever he went, he left behind a cluttered trail of bad chess moves, of unfinished box scores, and half-read books.

It was not hard to love Uncle Victor, however. The food was worse than it had been with my mother, and the apartments we lived in were shabbier and more cramped, but in the long run those were minor points. Victor did not pretend to be something he was not. He knew that fatherhood was beyond him, and there­fore he treated me less as a child than as a friend, a diminutive and much-adored crony. It was an arrangement that suited us both. Within a month of my arrival, we had developed a game of inventing countries together, imaginary worlds that overturned the laws of nature. Some of the better ones took weeks to perfect, and the maps I drew of them hung in a place of honor above the kitchen table. The Land of Sporadic Light, for example, and the Kingdom of One-Eyed Men. Given the difficulties the real world had created for both of us, it probably made sense that we should want to leave it as often as possible.

Not long after I arrived in Chicago, Uncle Victor took me to a showing of the movie Around the World in 80 Days. The hero of that story was named Fogg, of course, and from that day on Uncle Victor called me Phileas as a term of endearment—a secret ref­erence to that strange moment, as he put it, "when we confronted ourselves on the screen." Uncle Victor loved to concoct elaborate, nonsensical theories about things, and he never tired of expound­ing on the glories hidden in my name. Marco Stanley Fogg. Ac­cording to him, it proved that travel was in my blood, that life would carry me to places where no man had ever been before. Marco, naturally enough, was for Marco Polo, the first European to visit China; Stanley was for the American journalist who had tracked down Dr. Livingstone "in the heart of darkest Africa"; and Fogg was for Phileas, the man who had stormed around the globe in less than three months. It didn't matter that my mother had chosen Marco simply because she liked it, or that Stanley had been my grandfather's name, or that Fogg was a misnomer, the whim of some half-literate American functionary. Uncle Victor found meanings where no one else would have found them, and then, very deftly, he turned them into a form of clandestine sup­port. The truth was that I enjoyed it when he showered all this attention on me, and even though I knew his speeches were so much bluster and hot air, there was a part of me that believed every word he said. In the short run, Victor's nominalism helped me to survive the difficult first weeks in my new school. Names are the easiest thing to attack, and Fogg lent itself to a host of spontaneous mutilations: Fag and Frog, for example, along with countless meteorological references: Snowball Head, Slush Man, Drizzle Mouth. Once my last name had been exhausted, they turned their attention to the first. The o at the end of Marco was obvious enough, yielding epithets such as Dumbo, Jerko, and Mumbo Jumbo, but what they did in other ways defied all expec­tations. Marco became Marco Polo; Marco Polo became Polo Shirt; Polo Shirt became Shirt Face; and Shirt Face became Shit Face—a dazzling bit of cruelty that stunned me the first time I heard it. Eventually, I lived through my schoolboy initiation, but it left me with a feeling for the infinite fragility of my name. This name was so bound up with my sense of who I was that I wanted to protect it from further harm. When I was fifteen, I began signing all my papers M. S. Fogg, pretentiously echoing the gods of modern literature, but at the same time delighting in the fact that the initials stood for manuscript. Uncle Victor heartily approved of this about- face. "Every man is the author of his own life," he said. "The book you are writing is not yet finished. Therefore, it's a manu­script. What could be more appropriate than that?" Little by little, Marco faded from public circulation. I was Phileas to my uncle, and by the time I reached college, I was M. S. to everyone else. A few wits pointed out that those letters were also the initials of a disease, but by then I welcomed any added associations or ironies that I could attach to myself. When I met Kitty Wu, she called me by several other names, but they were her personal property, so to speak, and I was glad of them as well: Foggy, for example, which was used only on special occasions, and Cyrano, which developed for reasons that will become clear later. Had Uncle Victor lived to meet her, I'm sure he would have appreciated the fact that Marco, in his own small way, had at last set foot in China.

The clarinet lessons did not go well (my breath was unwilling, my lips impatient), and I soon wormed my way out of them. Baseball proved more compelling to me, and by the time I was eleven I had become one of those skinny American kids who went everywhere with his glove, pounding my right fist into the pocket a thousand times a day. Baseball no doubt helped me over some hurdles at school, and when I joined the local Little League that first spring, Uncle Victor came to nearly all the games to cheer me on. In July of 1958, however, we moved abruptly to Saint Paul, Minnesota ("a rare opportunity," said Victor, referring to some job he had been offered to teach music), but by the following year we were back in Chicago. In October, Victor bought a television set and allowed me to stay home from school to watch the White Sox lose the World Series in six games. That was the year of Early Wynn and the go-go Sox, of Wally Moon and his moon-shot home runs. We pulled for Chicago, of course, but we were both secretly glad when the man with the bushy eyebrows hit one out in the last game. With the start of the next season, we went back to rooting for the Cubs—the bumbling, sad-sack Cubs, the team that possessed our souls. Victor was a staunch advocate of daytime baseball, and he saw it as a moral good that the chewing gum king had not succumbed to the perversion of artificial lights. "When I go to a game," he would say, "the only stars I want to see are the ones on the diamond. It's a sport for sunshine and wooly sweat. Apollo's cart hovering at the zenith! The great ball burning in the American sky!" We had lengthy discussions during those years about such men as Ernie Banks, George Altman, and Glen Hobbie. Hobbie was a particular favorite of his, but in keeping with his view of the world, my uncle declared that he would never make it as a pitcher, since his name implied unprofessionalism. Crackpot remarks of this sort were essential to Victor's brand of humor. Having developed a true fondness for his jokes by then, I understood why they had to be delivered with a straight face. Shortly after I turned fourteen, the household population ex­panded to three. Dora Shamsky, nee Katz, was a stout, mid-forty- ish widow with an extravagant head of bleached blond hair and a tightly girdled rump. Since the death of Mr. Shamsky six years before, she had been working as a secretary in the actuarial division of Mid-American Life. Her meeting with Uncle Victor took place in the ballroom of the Featherstone Hotel, where the Moonlight Moods had been on hand to provide musical entertainment for the company's annual New Year's Eve bash. After a whirlwind courtship, the couple tied the knot in March. I saw nothing wrong with any of this per se and proudly served as best man at the wedding. But once the dust began to settle, it pained me to notice that my new aunt did not laugh very readily at Victor's jokes, and I wondered if that might not indicate a certain obtuseness on her part, a lack of mental agility that boded ill for the prospects of the union. I soon learned that there were two Doras. The first was all bustle and get-up-and-go, a gruff, mannish character who stormed about the house with sergeant like efficiency, a bulwark of brittle good cheer, a know-it-all, a boss. The second Dora was a boozy flirt, a tearful, self-pitying sensualist who tottered around in a pink bathrobe and puked up her binges on the living room floor. Of the two, I much preferred the second, if only because of the ten­derness she seemed to show for me then. But Dora in her cups posed a conundrum that I was quite at a loss to untangle, for these collapses of hers made Victor morose and unhappy, and more than anything else in the world, I hated to see my uncle suffer. Victor could put up with the sober, nagging Dora, but her drunk­enness brought out a severity and impatience in him that struck me as unnatural, a perversion of his true self. The good and the bad were therefore constantly at war with each other. When Dora was good, Victor was bad; when Dora was bad, Victor was good. The good Dora created a bad Victor, and the good Victor returned only when Dora was bad. I remained a prisoner of this infernal machine for more than a year.

Fortunately, the bus company in Boston had made a generous settlement. By Victor's calculations, there would be enough money to pay for four years of college, modest living expenses, and some­thing extra to carry me into so-called real life. For the first few years he kept this fund scrupulously intact. He fed me out of his own pocket and was glad to do so, taking pride in his responsibility and showing no inclination to tamper with the sum or any part of it. With Dora now on the scene, however, Victor changed his plan. Withdrawing the interest that had accumulated on the lump, along with certain bits of the something extra, he enrolled me in a private boarding school in New Hampshire, thinking in this way to reverse the effects of his miscalculation. For if Dora had not turned out to be the mother he had been hoping to provide for me, he saw no reason not to look for another solution. Too bad for the something extra, of course, but that could not be helped. When faced with a choice between the now and the later, Victor had always gone with the now, and given that his whole life was bound up in the logic of this impulse, it was only natural that he should opt for the now again.

I spent three years at Anselm's Academy for Boys. When I returned home after the second year, Victor and Dora had already come to a parting of the ways, but there did not seem to be any point in switching schools again, and so I went back to New Hamp­shire when summer vacation was over. Victor's account of the divorce was fairly muddled, and I could never be sure of what really happened. There was some talk about missing bank accounts and broken dishes, but then a man named George was mentioned, and I wondered if he wasn't involved in it as well. I did not press my uncle for details, however, since when all was said and done, he seemed more relieved than stricken to be alone again. Victor had survived the marriage wars, but that did not mean he had no wounds to show for it. His appearance was disturbingly rumpled (buttons missing, collars soiled, the cuffs of his pants frayed), and even his jokes had begun to take on a wistful, almost poignant quality. Those signs were bad enough, but more troubling to me were the physical lapses. There were moments when he stumbled as he walked (a mysterious buckling of the knees), knocked into household objects, seemed to forget where he was. I knew that life with Dora had taken its toll but there must have been more to it than that. Not wanting to increase my alarm, I managed to convince myself that his troubles had less to do with his body than with his state of mind. Perhaps I was right, but looking back on it now, it is difficult for me to imagine that the symptoms I first saw that summer were not connected to the heart attack that killed him three years later. Victor himself said nothing, but his body was speaking to me in code, and I did not have the where­withal or the sense to crack it.
When I returned to Chicago for Christmas vacation, the crisis seemed to have passed. Victor had recovered much of his bounce, and great doings were suddenly afoot. In September, he and Howie Dunn had disbanded the Moonlight Moods and started another group, joining forces with three younger musicians who took over at drums, piano, and saxophone. They called themselves the Moon Men now, and most of their songs were original numbers. Victor wrote the lyrics, Howie composed the music, and all five of them sang, after a fashion. "No more old favorites," Victor announced to me when I arrived. "No more dance tunes. No more drunken weddings. We've quit the rubber chicken circuit for a run at the big time." There was no question that they had put together an original act, and when I went to see them perform the next night, the songs struck me as a revelation—filled with humor and spirit, a boisterous form of mayhem that mocked everything from politics to love. Victor's lyrics had a jaunty, ditty like flavor to them, but the underlying tone was almost Swiftian in its effect. Spike Jones meets Schopenhauer, if such a thing is possible. Howie had swung the Moon Men a booking in one of the downtown Chicago clubs, and they wound up performing there every weekend from Thanks­giving to Valentine's Day. By the time I came back to Chicago after high school graduation, a tour was already in the works, and there was even some talk of cutting a record with a company in Los Angeles. That was how Uncle Victor's books entered the story. He was going on the road in mid-September, and he didn't know when he would be back.

It was late at night, less than a week before I was supposed to leave for New York. Victor was sitting in his chair by the win­dow, working his way through a pack of Raleighs and drinking schnapps from a dime-store tumbler. I was sprawled out on the couch, floating happily in a stupor of bourbon and smoke. We had been talking about nothing in particular for three or four hours, but now the conversation had hit a lull, and each of us was drifting in the silence of his own thoughts. Uncle Victor sucked in a last drag from his cigarette, squinted as the smoke curled up his cheek, and then snuffed out the butt in his favorite ashtray, a souvenir from the 1939 World's Fair. Studying me with misty af­fection, he took another sip from his drink, smacked his lips, and let out a deep sigh. "Now we come to the hard part," he said. "The endings, the farewells, the famous last words. Pulling up stakes, I think they call it in the Westerns. If you don't hear from me often, Phileas, remember that you're in my thoughts. I wish I could say I know where I'll be, but new worlds suddenly beckon to us both, and I doubt there will be many chances for writing letters." Uncle Victor paused to light another cigarette, and I could see that his hand trembled as he held the match. "No one knows how long it will last," he continued, "but Howie is very optimistic. The bookings are extensive so far, and no doubt others will follow. Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, California. We'll be setting a westerly course, plunging into the wilderness. It should be interesting, I think, no matter what comes of it. A bunch of city slickers in the land of cowboys and Indians. But I relish the thought of those open spaces, of playing my music under the desert sky. Who knows if some new truth will not be revealed to me out there?"

Uncle Victor laughed, as though to undercut the seriousness of this thought. "The point being," he resumed, "that with so much distance to be covered, I must travel light. Objects will have to be discarded, given away, thrown into the dust. Since it pains me to think of them vanishing forever, I have decided to hand them over to you. Who else can I trust, after all? Who else is there to carry on the tradition? I begin with the books. Yes, yes, all of them. As far as I'm concerned, it couldn't have come at a better moment. When I counted them this afternoon, there were one thousand four hundred and ninety-two volumes. A propitious number, I think, since it evokes the memory of Columbus's dis­covery of America, and the college you're going to was named after Columbus. Some of these books are big, some are small, some are fat, some are thin—but all of them contain words. If you read those words, perhaps they will help you with your education. No, no, I won't hear of it. Not one peep of protest. Once you're settled in New York, I'll have them shipped to you. I'll keep the extra copy of Dante, but otherwise you must have them all. After that, there's the wooden chess set. I'll keep the magnetic one, but the wood must go with you. Then comes the cigar box with the baseball autographs. We have nearly every Cub of the past two decades, a few stars, and numerous lesser lights from around the league. Matt Batts, Memo Luna, Rip Repulski, Putsy Caballero, Dick Drott. The obscurity of those names alone should make them immortal. After that, I come to various trinkets, doo-dads, odds and ends. My souvenir ashtrays from New York and the Alamo, the Haydn and Mozart recordings I made with the Cleveland Or­chestra, the family photo album, the plaque I won as a boy for finishing first in the statewide music competition. That was in 1924, if you can believe it—a long, long time ago. Finally, I want you to have the tweed suit I bought in the Loop a few winters back. I won't be needing it in the places I'm going to, and it's made of the finest Scottish wool. I've worn it just twice, and if I gave it to the Salvation Army, it would only wind up on the back of some besotted creature from Skid Row. Much better that you should have it. It will give you a certain distinction, and there's no crime in looking your best, is there? We'll go to the tailor first thing tomorrow morning and have it altered.

"That takes care of it, I think. The books, the chess set, the autographs, the miscellaneous, the suit. Now that my kingdom has been disposed of, I feel content. There's no need for you to look at me like that. I know what I'm doing, and I'm glad to have done it. You're a good boy, Phileas, and you'll always be with me, no matter where I am. For the time being, we move off in opposite directions. But sooner or later we'll meet again, I'm sure of it. Everything works out in the end, you see, everything con­nects. The nine circles. The nine planets. The nine innings. Our nine lives. Just think of it. The correspondences are infinite. But enough of this blather for one night. The hour grows late, and sleep is calling to us both. Come, give me your hand. Yes, that's right, a good firm grip. Like so. And now shake. That's right, a shake of farewell. A shake to last us to the end of time."

Every week or two, Uncle Victor would send me a postcard. These were generally garish, full-color tourist items: depictions of Rocky Mountain sunsets, publicity shots of roadside motels, cactus plants and rodeos, dude ranches, ghost towns, desert panoramas. Salutations sometimes appeared within the borders of a painted lasso, and once a mule even spoke with a cartoon bubble above his head: Greetings from Silver Gulch. The messages on the back were brief, cryptic scrawls, but I was not hungry for news from my uncle so much as an occasional sign of life. The real pleasure lay in the cards themselves, and the more inane and vulgar they were, the happier I was to get them. I felt that we were sharing some private joke each time I found one in my mailbox, and the very best ones (a picture of an empty restaurant in Reno, a fat woman on horseback in Cheyenne) I even went so far as to tape to the wall above my bed. My roommate understood the empty restaurant, but the horseback rider baffled him. I explained that she bore an uncanny resemblance to my uncle's ex-wife, Dora. Given the way things happen in the world, I said, there was a good chance that the woman was Dora herself.

Because Victor did not stay anywhere very long, it was hard for me to answer him. In late October I wrote a nine-page letter about the New York City blackout (I had been trapped in an el­evator with two friends), but I did not mail it until January, when the Moon Men began their three-week stint in Tahoe. If I could not write often, I nevertheless managed to stay in spiritual contact with him by wearing the suit. Suits were hardly in fashion for undergraduates back then, but I felt at home in it, and since for all practical purposes I had no other home, I continued to wear it every day, from the beginning of the year to the end. At moments of stress and unhappiness, it was a particular comfort to feel myself swaddled in the warmth of my uncle's clothes, and there were times when I imagined the suit was actually holding me together, that if I did not wear it my body would fly apart. It functioned as a protective membrane, a second skin that shielded me from the blows of life. Looking back on it now, I realize what a curious figure I must have cut: gaunt, disheveled, intense, a young man clearly out of step with the rest of the world. But the fact was that I had no desire to fit in. If my fellow students pegged me as an oddball, that was not my problem. I was the sublime intellectual, the cantankerous and opinionated future genius, the skulking Malevolent who stood apart from the herd. It almost makes me blush to remember the ridiculous poses I struck back then. I was a gro­tesque amalgam of timidity and arrogance, alternating between long, awkward silences and blazing fits of rambunctiousness. When the mood came upon me, I would spend whole nights in bars, smoking and drinking as though I meant to kill myself, quoting verses from minor sixteenth-century poets, making obscure ref­erences in Latin to medieval philosophers, doing everything I could to impress my friends. Eighteen is a terrible age, and while I walked around with the conviction that I was somehow more grown-up than my classmates, the truth was that I had merely found a different way of being young. More than anything else, the suit was the badge of my identity, the emblem of how I wanted others to see me. Objectively considered, there was nothing wrong with the suit. It was a dark greenish tweed with small checks and narrow lapels—a sturdy, well-made article of clothing—but after several months of constant wear, it began to give a haphazard impression, hanging on my skinny frame like some wrinkled af­terthought, a sagging turmoil of wool. What my friends didn't know, of course, was that I wore it for sentimental reasons. Under my nonconformist posturing, I was also satisfying the desire to have my uncle near me, and the cut of the garment had almost nothing to do with it. If Victor had given me a purple zoot suit, I no doubt would have worn it in the same spirit that I wore the tweed.
When classes ended in the spring, I turned down my room­mate's suggestion that we share an apartment the following year. I liked Zimmer well enough (he was my best friend, in fact), but after four years of roommates and dormitories, I could not resist the temptation to live alone. I found the place on West 112th Street and moved in on June fifteenth, arriving with my bags just mo­ments before two burly men delivered the seventy-six cartons of Uncle Victor's books that had been sitting in storage for the past nine months. It was a studio apartment on the fifth floor of a large elevator building: one medium-size room with a kitchenette in the southeast corner, a closet, a bathroom, and a pair of windows that looked out on an alley. Pigeons flapped their wings and cooed on the ledge, and six dented garbage cans stood on the ground below. The air was dim inside, tinged gray throughout, and even on the brightest days it did not exude more than a paltry radiance. I felt some pangs at first, small thumps of fear about living on my own, but then I made a singular discovery that helped me to warm up to the place and settle in. It was my second or third night there, and quite by accident I found myself standing between the two windows, positioned at an oblique angle to the one on the left. I shifted my eyes slightly in that direction, and suddenly I was able to see a slit of air between the two buildings in back. I was looking down at Broadway, the smallest, most abbreviated portion of Broadway, and the remarkable thing was that the entire area of what I could see was filled up by a neon sign, a vivid torch of pink and blue letters that spelled out the words moon palace. I rec­ognized it as the sign from the Chinese restaurant down the block, but the force with which those words assaulted me drowned out every practical reference and association. They were magic letters, and they hung there in the darkness like a message from the sky itself, moon palace. I immediately thought of Uncle Victor and his band, and in that first, irrational moment, my fears lost their hold on me. I had never experienced anything so sudden and absolute. A bare and grubby room had been transformed into a site of inwardness, an intersection point of strange omens and mysterious, arbitrary events. I went on staring at the Moon Palace sign, and little by little I understood that I had come to the right place, that this small apartment was indeed where I was meant to live.

I spent the summer working part-time in a bookstore, going to the movies, and falling in and out of love with a girl named Cynthia, whose face has long since vanished from my memory. I felt more and more at home in my new apartment, and when classes started again that fall, I threw myself into a hectic round of late-night drinking with Zimmer and my friends, of amorous pursuits, and long, utterly silent binges of reading and studying. Much later, when I looked back on those things from the distance of years, I understood how fertile that time had been for me.

Then I turned twenty, and not many weeks after that I re­ceived a long, almost incomprehensible letter from Uncle Victor written in pencil on the backs of yellow order blanks for the Hum­boldt Encyclopedia. From all that I could gather, hard times had hit the Moon Men, and after a lengthy run of bad luck (broken engagements, flat tires, a drunk who bashed in the saxophonist’s nose, the group had finally split up. Since November, Uncle Victor had been living in Boise, Idaho, where he had found temporary work as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. But things had not panned out, and for the first time in all the years I had known him, I heard a note of defeat in Victor's words. "My clarinet is in hock," the letter said, "my bank statement reads nil, and the residents of Boise have no interest in encyclopedias."

I wired money to my uncle, then followed it with a telegram urging him to come to New York. Victor answered a few days later to thank me for the invitation. He would wrap up his affairs by the end of the week, he said, and then catch the next bus out. I calculated that he would arrive on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. But Wednesday came and went, and Victor did not show up. I sent another telegram, but there was no response. The pos­sibilities for disaster seemed infinite to me. I imagined all the things that can happen to a man between Boise and New York, and suddenly the American continent was transformed into a vast danger zone, a perilous nightmare of traps and mazes. I tried to track down the owner of Victor's rooming house, got nowhere with that, and then, as a last resort, called the Boise police. I carefully explained my problem to the sergeant at the other end, a man named Neil Armstrong. The following day, Sergeant Arm­strong called back with the news. Uncle Victor had been found dead at his lodgings on North Twelfth Street—slumped in a chair with his overcoat on, a half-assembled clarinet locked in the fingers of his right hand. Two packed suitcases had been standing by the door. The room was searched, but the authorities had turned up nothing to suggest foul play. According to the medical examiner's preliminary report, heart attack was the probable cause of death. "Tough luck, kid," the sergeant added, "I'm really sorry."

I flew out West the next morning to make the arrangements. I identified Victor's body at the morgue, paid off debts, signed papers and forms, prepared to have the body shipped home to Chicago. The Boise mortician was in despair over the state of the corpse. After languishing in the apartment for almost a week, there wasn't much to be done with it. "If I were you," he said to me, "I wouldn't expect any miracles."

I set up the funeral by telephone, contacted a few of Victor's friends (Howie Dunn, the broken-nosed saxophonist, a number of former students), made a half-hearted attempt to reach Dora (she couldn't be found), and then accompanied the casket back to Chicago. Victor was buried next to my mother, and the sky pelted us with rain as we stood there watching our friend disappear into the earth. Afterward, we drove to the Dunns' house on the North Side, where Mrs. Dunn had prepared a modest spread of cold cuts and hot soup. I had been weeping steadily for the past four hours, and in the house I quickly downed five or six double bour­bons along with my food. It brightened my spirits considerably, and after an hour or so I began singing songs in a loud voice. Howie accompanied me on the piano, and for a while the gathering became quite raucous. Then I threw up on the floor, and the spell was broken. At six o'clock, I said my good-byes and lurched out into the rain. I wandered blindly for two or three hours, threw up again on a doorstep, and then found a thin, gray-eyed prostitute named Agnes standing under an umbrella on a neon-lit street. I accompanied her to a room in the Eldorado Hotel, gave her a brief lecture on the poems of Sir Walter Raleigh, and then sang lullabies to her as she took off her clothes and spread her legs. She called me a lunatic, but then I gave her a hundred dollars, and she agreed to spend the night with me. I slept badly, however, and at four a.m. I slipped out of bed, climbed into my wet clothes, and took a taxi to the airport. I was back in New York by ten o'clock.

In the end, the problem was not grief. Grief was the first cause, perhaps, but it soon gave way to something else—some­thing more tangible, more calculable in its effects, more violent in the damage it produced. A whole chain of forces had been set in motion, and at a certain point I began to wobble, to fly in greater and greater circles around myself, until at last I spun out of orbit.

C'était l'été où l'homme a pour la première fois posé le pied sur la Lune. J'étais très jeune en ce temps-là, mais je n'avais aucune foi dans l'avenir. Je voulais vivre dangereusement, me pousser aussi loin que je pourrais aller, et voir ce qui se passerait une fois que j'y serais parvenu. En réalité j'ai bien failli ne pas y parvenir. Petit à petit, j'ai vu diminuer mes ressources jusqu'à zéro ; j'ai perdu mon appartement ; je me suis retrouvé à la rue. Sans une jeune fille du nom de Kitty Wu, je serais sans doute mort de faim. Je l'avais rencontrée par hasard peu de temps auparavant, mais j'ai fini par m'apercevoir qu'il s'était moins agi de hasard que d'une forme de disponibilité, une façon de cher­cher mon salut dans la conscience d'autrui. Ce fut la première période. A partir de là, il m'est arrivé des choses étranges. J'ai trouvé cet emploi auprès du vieil homme en chaise roulante. J'ai découvert qui était mon père. J'ai parcouru le désert, de l'Utah à la Californie. Il y a longtemps, certes, que cela s'est passé, mais je me souviens bien de cette époque, je m'en souviens comme du commence­ment de ma vie.

Je suis arrivé à New York à l'automne 1965. J'avais alors dix-huit ans, et durant les neuf pre­miers mois j'ai habité dans une résidence univer­sitaire. A Columbia, tous les étudiants de première année étrangers à la ville devaient obligatoirement résider sur le campus, mais dès la fin de la session j'ai déménagé dans un appartement de la Cent douzième rue ouest. C'est là que j'ai passé les trois années suivantes. Compte tenu des difficul­tés auxquelles j'ai dû faire face, il est miraculeux que j'aie tenu aussi longtemps
J'ai vécu dans cet appartement avec plus d'un millier de livres. Dans un premier temps, ils avaient appartenu à mon oncle Victor, qui les avait peu à peu accumulés au long d'environ trente années. Juste avant mon départ pour le collège, d'un geste impulsif, il me les avait offerts en cadeau d'adieu. J'avais résisté de mon mieux, mais oncle Victor était un homme sentimental et généreux, et il n'avait rien voulu entendre. "Je n'ai pas d'argent à te donner, disait-il, et pas le moindre conseil. Prends les livres pour me faire plaisir." J'ai pris les livres, mais pendant un an et demi je n'ai ouvert aucun des cartons dans lesquels ils étaient emballés. J'avais le projet de persuader mon oncle de les reprendre et, en attendant, je souhaitais qu'il ne leur arrive rien.

Tels quels, ces cartons me furent en réalité très utiles. L'appartement de la Cent douzième rue n'était pas meublé et, plutôt que de gaspiller mes fonds en achats que je ne désirais ni ne pouvais me permettre, je convertis les cartons en "mobilier imaginaire". Cela ressemblait à un jeu de patience : il fallait les grouper selon différentes configura­tions modulaires, les aligner, les empiler les uns sur les autres, les arranger et les réarranger jus­qu'à ce qu'ils ressemblent enfin à des objets domes­tiques. Une série de seize servait de support à mon matelas, une autre de douze tenait lieu de table, groupés par sept ils devenaient sièges, par deux, table de chevet. Dans l'ensemble, l'effet était plutôt monochrome, avec, où que l'on regar­dât, ce brun clair assourdi, mais je ne pouvais me défendre d'un sentiment de fierté devant mon ingéniosité. Mes amis trouvaient bien cela étrange, mais ils s'étaient déjà frottés à mes étrangetés. Pensez à la satisfaction, leur expliquais-je, de vous glisser au lit avec l'idée que vos rêves vont se dérouler au-dessus de la littérature américaine du xixe siècle. Imaginez le plaisir de vous mettre à table avec la Renaissance entière tapie sous votre repas. A vrai dire je ne savais pas du tout quels livres se trouvaient dans quels cartons, mais j'étais très fort à cette époque pour inventer des his­toires, et j'aimais le ton de ces phrases, même si elles n'étaient pas fondées.

Mon mobilier imaginaire resta intact pendant près d'un an. Puis, au printemps 1967, oncle Victor mourut. Sa mort fut pour moi un choc terrible ; à bien des égards, c'était le pire choc que j'eusse jamais subi. Oncle Victor n'était pas seulement l'être au monde que j'avais le plus aimé, il était mon seul parent, mon unique relation à quelque chose de plus vaste que moi. Sans lui, je me sentis dépossédé, écorché vif par le destin. Si je m'étais d'une manière ou d'une autre attendu à sa dispa­rition, j'en aurais sans doute pris plus facilement mon parti. Mais comment s'attendre à la mort d'un homme de cinquante-deux ans dont la santé a toujours été bonne ? Mon oncle s'est simplement écroulé par un bel après-midi de la mi-avril, et ma vie à cet instant a commencé à basculer, j'ai commencé à disparaître dans un autre univers.

Il n'y a pas grand-chose à raconter sur ma famille. La liste des personnages est courte, et pour la plu­part ils ne sont guère restés en scène. J'ai vécu jusqu'à onze ans avec ma mère, mais elle a été tuée dans un accident de la circulation, renversée par un autobus qui dérapait, incontrôlable, dans la neige de Boston. Il n'y avait jamais eu de père dans le tableau, seulement nous deux, ma mère et moi. Le fait qu'elle portât son nom de jeune fille prouvait qu'elle n'avait jamais été mariée, mais je n'ai appris qu'après sa mort que j'étais illégitime. Quand j'étais petit, il ne me venait pas à l'esprit de poser des questions sur de tels sujets. J'étais Marco Fogg, ma mère Emily Fogg, et mon oncle de Chicago Victor Fogg. Nous étions tous des Fogg et il me paraissait tout à fait logique que les membres d'une même famille portent le même nom. Plus tard, oncle Victor m'a raconté qu'à l'origine le nom de son père était Fogelman, et que quelqu'un. à Ellis Island, dans les bureaux de l'immigration, l'avait réduit à Fog, avec un
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