Monday, November 26, 2007

The Weird Things That Stick With You

I wonder if it's possible to learn something about yourself by what little details you recall from things you've read. For my part, they're not usually the bits that the culture at large seems to remember...they're minor things, distractions. I have a collection of them, a kind of postcard album.

From Moby-Dick: not Ahab hammering the gold coin to the mast, or being carried away by the whale, but Ishmael and Queequeg snuggling homoerotically in the sack.

From Ulysses: not Bloom wanking on the beach, or Molly's big round butt (though God knows I do recall those clearly), but that crazy-ass dog in the bar.

From the collected poems of Robert Frost: not "The Road Less Traveled," not "The Gift Outright," not even my uncle's favorite poem in the world, "Two Tramps in Mud Time," but the creepy skeleton stuff in "The Witch of Coos": Torvald, THE BONES!!! (I am probably misquoting this--my Frost is at work.)

From Rhian's novel: the ghost in the donut shop.

From some random Stephen King novel: a woman demanding oral sex from a teenager, thus proving to my own teenage self that oral sex did indeed exist.

From some poem by a woman named Ruth something in a literary magazine I read like a dozen years ago: "I'm feeling a little pepper happy...A little pepper happy."

[edit: I think this was Ruth Tobias, in the magazine Fine Madness. She seems to write about food a lot, if the internet is telling me the truth. I can't find this poem anywhere, though.]

From a woman speaking at a funeral in a Jonathan Franzen novel (I think Strong Motion): "We were as sisters unto one another."

From Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine: The remains of a dinner roll that has been run over by a lawnmower...which, interestingly, is presented in that novel as an image that is wedged in the mind of the narrator, rather than something he notices in scene. (As an aside, I have been brushing my tongue and the roof of my mouth as well as my teeth for more than a decade, only because somebody in a Nicholson Baker novel does, and it sounded so appealing.)

Hmm, so where does that leave me? Sex, death, food, and personal hygiene. Sounds about right.


TIV: the individual voice said...

I love this. Our selective memories, and how books intertwine with our lives.

Trevor said...

Agreed with TIV. Though sadly I do this more with lines of dialogue from movies. Fredo Corleone suggesting in Cuba that one could order "a local drink" like "a pina colada or a cuba libre." Cooba leebray.

I highly recommend purchasing a tongue scraper. The difference is astounding.

rmellis said...

From The World As I Found It, as W. looks out at sunset: "Red sky. Red cow. Red Wittgenstein." I think of that all the time.

From Mailman: The stick of deodorant on Mailman's lap.

From The Sound and the Fury: Someone walking along a fence, mumbling. (Maybe I only got that far.)

The entire oeuvre of Joyce Carol Oates: a cloven hoof in a cowboy boot.

Mr. Saflo said...

Near the beginning of Melville's Redburn, the narrator is describing the paintings of ships in his childhood home, and says that one was toasted brown and "mellow and old", and "I used to think a piece of it might taste good." How bizarre and incredible and so very Melville. And of course, we know exactly what he means.

rmellis said...

Wow. I'm going to have to read Redburn.

I don't even want something called a
"tongue scraper" in my house. Near my house.

jrlennon said...

*discreetly returns tongue scraper to Brookstone*

Mr. Saflo said...

Used tongue scrapers? I'll take five.

Dusty said...

Great post. I seem to remember only grooming things. From Lot 49, I can't remember the name of that teenage rock group nor anything that happens after some hotel stay, but I always remember Mucho Maas's habit of shaving three times against the grain and three times with to remove any trace of a moustache.

And from that Lily Tomlin/Steve Martin movie, All of Me, I clearly remember them fighting in the mirror over whether one should brush one's teeth slowly and firmly or just to get the damn thing over with.