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.
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