Friday, August 05, 2005

My Life With the Devil, Part II

You don’t really start seeing the Devil until you start your professional life, and then only when you’ve already started to take it seriously. Then you’re ready to see him, because you already believe. You don’t really start listening to the Devil until you realize that you’re going to die and unless you believe in something else, you’d better get busy. Then, let’s face it, the Devil has all the answers.

All that other stuff, particularly the awful things you do in your love life are wholly your own actions and don’t kid yourself. Even then, he’s only there in an intermittent, avuncular sort of way, though this is probably the period where we got along best, because you could call him with a specific question and when it came to power and social situations, let’s face it, he really had a lot of experience. I also found he also knew a lot about personal relationships, now that I was older and ready to listen. I really did not understand break-ups before. I wanted to be kind and my hesitation only caused more pain. My honesty made things only worse. Also, let’s face it, I was ashamed of what I really wanted. That’s the great thing about talking to the Devil: you can talk about anything. He’s interested in what you want. He’s heard it all.

I lived through my shame. And when it was over, I discovered I still wanted the same things.

Before, I believed in virtue, that is, in self-punishment and frustration. Only if a thing were difficult was it worth doing or righteous. My life, accordingly, was humble, meek, virtuous and wholly without merit. Nothing really bad could be said about me, because nothing could be really said at all. The Devil is really a very articulate fellow and a friend of writers, to be sure, but he is really about actions, effects. He’s also not very risk-averse, but he has this comeback quality: he’s not one to spend to much time on regrets or reproaches or what one did wrong and to who and why things did not work out. When the Devil gambles, everyone eats steak.

The Devil convinced me to take it easy and to be good to myself. To give to the world what came easiest from me: this turned out to be things like flattery, knavery, promiscuity, gentle misrepresentations, grandeur, parties, bar tabs -in short, the pleasure of my company. The world, in turn, gave easily to me: diseases, reprimands, jealousy, genuine kindness, love, debt, fame and fortune, which demonstrates that the world gives most easily things you have no possible use for, really.

If you believe in the Devil, it is easy and pleasing to see his work, in fact, it’s hard to learn about the Twentieth Century or listen to a record backwards and not believe in something, restless for novelty. If you don’t, you still see his work anyway, because it feeds and clothes you and makes people want to go to bed with you and, contrary to a certain dogma, the Devil doesn’t really care if you believe in him or not. He’s hard to let down or offend. You could say he’s only disappointed when you let yourself down.

Let me tell you story to illustrate this proposition: I had writer’s block. Who does not call upon the Devil at such a time? The Devil will appear as soon as you are ready and insist that you stop eating beans and go out to a fine restaurant, preferably one finer than you can afford. But first, he’ll torment you by making fun of your little hovel. If you haven’t been taking good care of yourself, he’ll go all Joan Rivers on your ass. He’ll make fun of your girlfriend’s appearance, which is something you never talk about with her. Worst of all, he’ll chat and chat and you can see that he has a nice new crisp pack of fancy fancy cigarettes. You quit. Your girlfriend made you. You promised yourself and her. You can see them just bulging in his velvety pockets, just sliding around as he slinks about your dim little room making fun of your frustrated masturbation practices. He even lights one without asking. He’s such a bastard. Smelling it is making you dizzy. You finally ask him for one. Good heavens, my dear fellow, he says, no wonder you’re blocked up, you can’t even ask for a fag. The smoke shoots through the furthest ends of your nerves, uncurling them. You relax and you feel higher than you ever do on any other drug. The Devil smiles what would be a parental smile, a gentle, kindly, motherly smile, if he wasn’t the Devil and says: if you wanted one you should have asked.

The Devil loves a good wine more than a baby’s blood. He orders well: the waiter almost wept at his choices. Courses come like unknown seasons in some foreign land made of gold. Over them he delivers a savage and scathingly funny critique of your work: “Good Country People; Constrained Country People: the Economic Subtext of Flannery O’Connor” Now that was good shit. That was good for some yuks. “The Cult of Death and the Culture of Life” -hilarious “The Continuing Relevance of Poop Humour After 9-11” -read it on the plane, laughed out loud -now what is this awful, awful shit you’re writing today? What are you -some kind of documentarian? He has me skewered, but I’m drunk. What he’s saying makes me cry because its so funny and because it really hurts. The Devil chews with his mouth open. Something about gustation. It’s disgusting, but he is after all, the Devil.

The Devil pops out a cell phone that is cooler than a switchblade and looks much sharper. It is not clear if he is talking to someone or recording a message, but in piercing, unpleasant pidgin he shrieks: “I drive around in my Mercedes and I buy soiled mattress! I give cash for soiled mattress, dirty, dirty. Did your insane wife take a dump in the bed? I will pay! Been sleeping all day all summer in a room with no air -I buy. Maybe you sick with some pervert disease. I pay. I pay big cash!” These are the words of the Devil.

The Devil leaves for a awhile, which is typical and works for me, because I’ve never really gotten the appeal of after dinner cocaine in a public restaurant, though the headwaiter made it seem like that was what the mirror was for. My head is spinning and my body is filled with pleasurable sensations, but too many of them, all competing. I need to fortify myself, so I scoop a little of the steak tartare into a leftover bloody mary. I’m a little wasted so I can’t tell if it’s a bloody mary with shrimp, or if I’m just so drunk I’m drinking a bowl of cocktail sauce. Later, I’m still not sure so I order a bloody mary. When it comes, the Devil appears, just like that, and downs it, chawing affably on the stick of celery afterwards. He beams like a little boy telling a secret. He is often alternately sophisticated and painfully immature (similarly, he is a native of everywhere, but always appears as a foreigner).

-I just got a blow job in that toilet. Now why the fuck can’t you get any action?
-What, in the Men’s room?
-Didn’t go the Men’s room this time. Nobody uncircumcised.

The Devil turns his smile and help rushes over to him. A woman screams from the rear of the restaurant, where the restrooms are. The Devil orders port. When the police arrive, they are afraid to come in, because they do not want to disturb his dinner, which, at this point, consists of smoking a cigar and trying to flick his fat ash on a baby’s head. The baby is a very good baby and quiet. We hear its hair crackle.

It’s best when you have dinner with the Devil not to think of who is going to pay. You always pay, you always get horribly screwed, no matter what. When you eat with the Devil just be glad you’re not eating your own fingers out of your mother’s shit. This is proverb that my people have that the Devil claims to have given them. It is a really unpleasant story. Which he will tell.

I got off easy this evening. I’m just hanging from an overpass from strings tied to my fingers. It is, of course, quite painful, because my fingers are being pulled out of their sockets and twisted into pulp. I am, however, more concerned about the old fashioned “potato masher” grenade sliding out of my ass onto a car below. A fine cognac drips onto my face, which would be pleasant enough, except for the gashes I don’t remember receiving and the little children playing at flying flaming paper airplanes into my face. It’s well after midnight. Where are their parents? The Devil is nothing, of not generous, so he puts me out a few times by urinating on me. This was all my idea, of course, this is the worst thing about after dinner with the Devil: it will always be your idea and he will always, always be sensible about it, but you will insist. It will seem like a good idea at the time. The best idea.

It’s times like this, of course, and not just writer’s block, that one calls upon the Devil. He speaks from where he is idly defacing a road sign on the overpass above, but it is like he is whispering in your ear: I will always get back to you, he promises, just not necessarily in the time frame that you want.

He’s gone of course. He probably took the ice cream truck. Some of the children went with him. They’re going to get ice cream. But he’s also everywhere, because this world is his world, you see. And it’s the way it is because of things we wanted, or I wanted, because I know, in truth, he’s no one’s devil but my own.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My Life With the Devil, Part I

The first time I met the Devil, I was just a newborn babe. My parents, like all wise parents, chose to introduce me right away (it is his world, after all). Contrary to the impression given in movies, we did not meet in the basement; further, he was in every way a perfect gentleman, other than that he handled me unsafely, shook me like cocktail shaker, touched me inappropriately and continued smoking. He was, however, very charming, and no one seemed to mind. “Delightful little cherub” he said, “What else ya got?”

Lest anyone think that this memory is too accurate for a newborn babe or, is in any way fictionalized, let me add that I was an extremely bright and receptive child: When they (my elders) named some object, and accordingly moved towards something, I saw this and I grasped that the thing was called by the sound they uttered when they meant to point it out. Their intention was shown by their bodily movements, as it were the natural language of all peoples: the expression of the face, the play of the eyes, the movement of other parts of the body, and the tone of voice which expresses our state of mind in seeking, having, rejecting, or avoiding something. Thus, as I heard words repeatedly used in their proper places in various sentences, I gradually learnt to understand what objects they signified; and after I had trained my mouth to form these signs, I used them to express my own desires. Also, I still have the cigarette butt that fell into my crib.

Then came those wonderful, truly magical years when God and the Devil are entirely real entities that speak to you, only having met the actual Devil, I knew somewhere that these other manifestations were explorations of my imagination, my developing ego formations, personality and nascent moral sense. So when I stole that shelf label from the grocery store because my brother made it seem so attractive, they were there, but not really. And when I burned the pot and lied about it, a dialogue followed, but it was just my child’s brain trying to understand the issue. And when we found that stash of weather worn crinkly pornography and played with ourselves with grimy fingers, I know the real Devil was probably indifferent. And when I was so mad I stabbed my brother with a knitting needle, he was somewhere else. And when I lied and said that it was the Scout Leader that had been providing the crinkly black and white S&M pornography to the rest of the troop and making them do humiliating, questionable things in return, things not conducive to character and a scout’s honor and the man was labeled a pedophile and sent to jail and his life destroyed, I spoke to God and the Devil a lot then, but I was just justifying myself. I know, because the Devil and I spoke, not long after, when I was fourteen: having survived this horrific episode of sexual abuse and having had the courage to speak the truth against corrupt adult power, I had shown some early character and a talent for public speaking; I was shaping up to be an ambitious young man and was perhaps thinking of politics. I joined the debate team. I had just finished addressing the United Nations defending Serbian actions in Sarajevo. I overplayed my case, to be sure and should not have mentioned Tito. I only did it because I wanted to be liked. My speech was entitled “What is Genocide, Really?”: I had written it for speech class. The Devil really gave me no more than a nod on the way out, but his meaning was clear: it was pathetic. I needed to grow up. He wasn’t there for my speech, of course. He’s at the UN a lot.

I actually didn’t see the Devil a lot at college, and I think that’s probably typical. I remember seeing him just once at a lecture given by Jurgen Habermas. He didn’t seem to listen to the lecture, but waited with solicitude, as for an old friend. After the lecture they stood together and chatted in German and laughed like childhood companions seeing each other after a long war; their eyes were most sad, they flickered in deep recesses, like a blackout candle or a hiding animal, which impressed me. I meant to follow them, but at the time, I was an alcoholic and alcoholics sometimes have difficulty following through.