Monday, August 31, 2009

part 20 - Thirty Eight Dollars and Seven Cents


I agree, the terror mechanics are a little underengineered. The book keeps telling us that there's danger and terror and plotting and evil, but if you really think about it, Rowan's stay at Pleasant Valley Farms is less menacing than any of the art fairs I did with the gallery...okay, bad example. Less menacing than most of my vacations with my friends; she hasn't even landed in the ER yet. Someone did die, though, I guess that's somewhat traumatic. But since Chao's death, there's not much to suggest that Rowan is in any significant danger. What would a bunch of Communist Chinese smugglers want from a sexy 24 year old bird of a girl who gets paralyzed whenever Lucy furrows her brow anyway?

Even if Rowan did want to leave, it appears that she's a little cash poor to do so. She has thirty-eight dollars and seven cents in her purse. I'm not Chuck Schwab, and it isn't 1972, but I think it's a bad sign, when asked how much money one has, to provide that figure in any denomination smaller than a country's primary unit of currency. And, given her activities over the past week at PPF, one wonders where and how she spent the money that would've gotten her a plane ticket back to San Fran. I haven't noticed many financial temptations along the way so far - if she only brought fifty bucks to the farm as it appears may have been the case, maybe she deserves to be made the bitch of a bunch of Red Chinese poison plant smugglers.

Rowan's solution for liberating herself from the farm is to write a secret letter to her fiancée requesting he purchase her a plane ticket (BTW, I know how to type an accent aigu only from representing Nicola López at CGFA...what a treasure chest of knowledge I came away with.) His name is/was Ted, but the editor crossed out that tidbit as superfluous. This brings up another interesting note about this project and how the transparency of the editing has changed the way we process the text. I assume you've probably read most of the out-stricken sections of the manuscript. It seems to me that whenever Lamb tries to provide any kind of description that isn't immediately relevant, it gets taken out of the book by the editor. For instance, a whole section of part 20 is removed that describes how Lucy sections and eats a grapefruit half. Sure, this isn't relevant to the plot, but it is indirectly, as Lucy's psychological complexion and manner add texture to the story. Perhaps the editor would let her get away with flourishes of detail if the nuts and bolts of the story had more integrity. I'm reading that book by James Wood, "How Fiction Works," and he talks about how Flaubert was a genius at confusing habitual detail with dynamic detail. Flaubert wrote as if the narrator's (author's) remarks were passive and arbitrary when he was actually subtly shaping the structure of novel without the reader feeling manipulated. Wood talks about how this tendency is one of the defining qualities of modern fiction. This is obviously part of what makes the Greenhouse so cartooney; because we aren't allowed to see how the hands of the characters section their grapefruits, or how they spend the moments between the moments. Except, that is, for the one scene at Reshevsky's apartment, where some of the details slipped by Lamb's literary goal keeper. That's why I liked it. More grapefruit, I say!

The next day Rowan lights a ciggy and, as she snuffs it out, she notices that the glass and needle she placed next to the ashtray are gone. Can you imagine a naive, virginal heroine in a pulpy crime novel today being a smoker? Reds and Marlboro Reds, even the Cincinnati Reds, aren't what they were in 1972 (they went to the World Series that year, I think.) We must be in Western Civilization's blue period...

The needle-and glass-morsel does appear to be a key piece of information, but it seems as if, like many other seemingly significant events, to be simply getting batted around for it keeps getting dramatic close ups with evil music, but never amounts to anything. I wonder if it will ever have actual significance. Maybe the dropped keys, the needle and the first prowler will all come back around into some Usual Suspects-like crescendo of an ending. Imagine writing a whole book strung together with clichéd (accent aigu..SCORE!) images that only get deflected further into the novel and then dropped altogether. Call it an A.D.D. novel. Wouldn't that be a great act of neo-estrangement?

My section ends with Reshevsky insisting that he take Rowan out for an "opulent" evening of dining and nightclubbing. Here we go again. The social dynamic between these two seems to be the sole plot-propulsion system the Greenhouse has. It's kind of a Pepe Le Pew-fictional-activity-engine. After some of his by now characteristic flatter/badgering, Rowan submits to Nick's insistences. After capitulating she retires to her room to primp and en-route gives Millie the letter to mail to her ex-fiancée (accent aigu...SCORE AGAIN!!.)

Rowan then thinks to herself, as she often does, that she just needs to get through the evening and then things will be fine. Someday just won't come, will it?

You're up, Cee.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Part 19 - a rejection, some banana bread and a dangerous needle

hey there,

It's been a week of odd ups and downs. Wednesday's trip to the Tibetan Museum was a definite highlight and of course, trying to plan out when we can visit the author is a huge motivating factor, as well. Today's email from the Sculpture Center about our rejected proposal was a bigger downer than a toxic mixture of Quaalude tossed down with a big glass of red wine. Not that I see it as a death knell for this project - in fact this project probably has more steam than I realise - but I'm getting very sick of project proposals being returned to me because the pool of applicants in New York City is several hundred times the available slots. Oh well.

I decided instead of moping around my studio where it is probably about 95F right now, I would work in the comparative coolness of my apartment and bake some banana bread. The last time I was unemployed I also took to baking. So far I've made two different types of banana bread and zucchini bread. I wonder if Rowan bakes....

It's been an exciting day its been for our heroine. Before I delve into matters about Rowan, on a sidenote, I love that the organization are the Chinese Reds. What on earth is their motive? Are they trying to gain control of the poisonous plants in the greenhouse? Take over Staten Island for use as their headquarters, ridding the land of the lawn-mowing, semi-detached house owning, bourgeoisie? Replacing well manicured lawns with proletariat run farms? Interesting side note; Reshevsky is the descendent of Russian royalty, too. I have to remember that at the time of this book, the Cold War was still very much on everyone's mind. But seriously... why on earth is Rowan in danger? what the hell is her role in all of this?

As we begin my section we find Rowan in the shower (nothing steamy, however.) As she's exiting, she hears Milly the maid knocking, asking for a band-aid for a nasty cut on her finger, which was caused by a nasty piece of long broken glass while she was sweeping the aunt's bedroom. They recover the offending instrument - it's an odd thing - a piece of broken glass attached to a long hollow needle similar to other needles she had seen in the greenhouse (this is a key piece of information.)

At dinner that night, which is a large formal affair, leaving Rowan uncomfortable in her 'tube dress', her Aunt as usual barely pays any attention to Rowan, except for when Rowan remarks that it's a shame the servants don't have access to things like Band Aids to patch up bad cuts caused by errant pieces of glass needles. this gets her aunt's attention - she becomes simultaneously menacing and frightened. this is clearly important information for the dear Aunt, and she demands to know what Rowan did with the needle.

It's clear that Rowan's Aunt is not going to let Rowan leave to return to the Bay Area either; rebuffing her attempts to leave in the next day or two and telling her to be 'more patient' (more patient for what?) These actions leave Rowan speechless (as she so very frequently is) and frozen on the staircase.

Oh, and on a final note, I actually pick up steam when I come close to the end of a book. As a child I used to stay up way past my bedtime reading, just because I couldn't bear the thought of waiting another day to finished a book, almost as if the characters would run off into the distant nebulous ether without me, if I fell asleep before finishing the book.


Part 18 - baseball analogies and our field trip


I've never been good at finishing books. I wasn't a strong reader when I was young and my attention span was short. Getting through the last 10 percent of a book was always a bit of a struggle. I remember ticking and repeating sentences madly when trying to complete Dandelion Wine in the 9th grade. Mrs. Ruggles to this day probably has no idea how hard it was for me. I imagine it being kind of like the helplessness some people describe in dreams where they're being chased and their legs become too heavy to run away. It's amazing that in someone's own dream they can't summon the will to save themselves. What other force is there in one's head that is sabotaging their imaginary well-being? I have a version of this dream where I'm trying to hit a 3 -2 hanging curve ball over the left field fence to win a baseball game. I see the pitch perfectly, and I hit the ball on a line toward the bleachers, but every time the ball changes directions and falls like lead from the sky. As deep as can go into my subconscious I can't figure out why, or what, is causing this; I want this home run to occur, but there is a force I can't locate that wants something else.

It always confounds me why this happens. Why would humans have any instincts that are self-defeating?

My point is that, as we approach the end, it's actually getting harder to finish, even as I'm more curious and have more at stake. But the trip to the Tibetan Museum yesterday really helped. I think it may be good to do another field trip next week. Maybe we can go to 111th and Riverside drive.

Because we went to the Museum, I had a pre-dressed imaginary stage ready for the ensuing actions to take place on. And actions and bombshells there were. In fact, this section is dense enough to do a list instead of prose.

We learn:

The "organization" is a smuggling ring run by Chinese "Reds." Lamb actually typed "Communist" and the editor switched it to "Reds." How fascinating is that?Cater and Lucy have never had sex. Cater is merely arm candy for Lucy, who only desires the superficial trappings of a glamorous life, and sex, according to Cater would be too "real" for her.

Cater believes he has been "Shanghaied" by his own government.

Reshevksy thinks he ought to have been a scholar.

According to Cater, Rowan is in big danger and should leave the next day while Cater stays to clean up the mess and try to unensnare Lucy from the Pinko Chinese smuggling network.

And, last, we learn that love is in the air between Matt "The Doctor" Cater and Rowan "Laugh-In" Martin.

I hear church bells....if the Reds don't ring their bells first.

The scene ends with Reshesvky driving Rowan back to Pleasant Plains Farms. She is, for very good reason, withdrawn quiet and stewing about what will transpire over the next 48 hours.

So am I, Rowan, so am I.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Part 17 - shave ice, a gigolo and some kind of an 'organization'


It is quite magnificent news about locating and finding Antonia Lamb. And admittedly a giant relief that she is not:
a) angry that we scrounged through the trash to find this manuscript, and is of the litigious type (at least not yet...)
b) has attributed our collaborative project to some fortuitous meeting of the stars and moon
c) dead

Interviewing her would be a wonderful addition to our back and forth narrative. In fact, I'm already starting to imagine our conversations with her. What type of cookies would she offer us? She lives close to the wine country, so perhaps she would insist on introducing us to a particularly great chardonnay from a new winery in Napa? Or perhaps as an astrologer, we would also get a free astrology reading? (oh by the way, I'm a Saggitarean. I have no idea what you are) .Anyway, on this scorcher of a Monday morning, I'm sitting down to my heavily edited 5 pages. But before we begin, let me tell you how I've been dealing with the heat this week (my studio refuses to cool down below 85F). There's a new shave ice place on Smith and Sackett in Carroll Gardens, 10 blocks from my studio. For about 10 minutes while consuming this heap of sugary and icey goodness, my body is happy. I like how so many different places around the world have developed their own icey treats to deal with summer: from Malaysia to Japan, and Hawaii, and across the globe to Puerto Rico. Ice and sugar together appear to be a universal treat.

Ok, back to Rowan: about half of my text has been crossed out and typed over - the intensity of the editing has become increasingly visible, most of which seem to involve the exchanges between Reshevsky and Rowan. It's a shame - I enjoy Reshevsky's snide comments, and the ineffective replies that Rowan insists on making.

Reshevsky opens my section by ringing the bell to the Tibetan Museum, where they are welcomed by a Mrs Carruthers, who seems to be an expert on the 'collection' as she will be giving a talk in the house in half an hour. She encourages Rowan to visit the garden first, while she leads Reshevsky to the library. The garden isn't described in much detail other than the stone animals that dot the landscape (5 elephants and some baboons). At the edge of the garden (separated from a steep drop by a wooden gate,) she is surpsied by Matt Cater. Ah ha! it's their long awaited meeting! I'm assuming that since this is where Matt was lying in wait for Rowan, this is the Tibetan Museum. (we should try to recreate this meeting on our Wednesday field trip... dibs, I'm not Rowan).

We are finally allowed some insight into the devellish plot that has been lurking in the background. It turns out Chao enlisted the help and trust of the caretaker (I'm assuming this means Mrs Carruthers), and by proxy this meant she was to trust Matt. And gasp! shock! horror! Chao was murdered! And Matt is his replacement! Apparently Matt had been doing some work for the 'organization' and they asked him to introduce Chao into Aunt Lucy's circle. Dear Rowan still cannot get her hang ups about the romantic connection between Matt and her aunt out of her head, prompting Matt to spell out to her that he is not romantically involved with her, but is merely an ornament - arm candy, as I believe the kids say today. Apparently after Chao was killed, Matt tried to leave town and untangle himself from Lucy, but she had other ideas, and apparently the 'organization' felt it was beneficial that Matt remain within her grasp. It's not made clear what on earth this 'organization' is, but Matt does make a comment where it indicates this organization is government related.

Dear Rowan, instead of asking salient questions such as 'what is this "organization" you speak of?', or 'why would anyone want to kill Chao?', accuses Matt of being a gigolo for his organization.

Apparently Lucy was not interested in love of the physical nature. Her previous marriage was to a man several times her own age, and she led a deadly dull life filled with plants and the such (although you would think such a marriage would lead you to affairs of the flesh.) My portion ends here. I eagerly await your next section... what on earth is this 'organization' that Matt belongs to? What do they want with Aunt Lucy and her plants?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Part 16 - chia pets and meeting the author

Yo, Cee.

I woke up this morning and ate some barbeque chicken from two nights ago. I made coffee, brushed my teeth and then drank the coffee I just made. I watered my Chia Obama that I found under the seat of a Penske truck I rented two weeks ago. I sopped up the water that ran over the tray on which Mr. Obama sits with two used tube socks. I watched five minutes of Sportscenter. I had another bite of chicken and thought to throw away some pulled pork from last week. I put on a shirt that I got as a gift for getting the New York Times. Hmmm, I think I forgot something I did this morning....oh yeah, between the fistfulls of cold chicken I CALLED ANTONIA LAMB!!!!
I think I was shaking when I pressed "call." The experience was indeed a lot like calling Carol Yake in 9th grade to go to a dance with me, only I wasn't wearing penny loafers and a blue and red striped Gant sweater I bought at Dillards. I did have to psych myself up to complete the task, though. The phone rang three times and I got her answering machine (not voicemail, but answering machine), which relieved me for a split second. I began leaving a jittery and fragmented message when a woman picked up the phone. Then I felt like I did when my dad made me call random people for a health care survey for his dissertation; like I had a hard five seconds to disarm her with my good intentions so she wouldn't hang up and slip away forever. Much like the dance with Carol Yake, there was little to actually be afraid of, except maybe for myself. She was a very gracious, intelligent, generous and spirited soul. I'm not very New Age about how I think of forces in the universe, but if I were, I'd have to say she had a good energy.
The only disappointment was that she was so easygoing and at peace with our project that we don't really have any kind of a wrenching, tragi-romantic conflict to resolve. There's no, the-book-reminds-her-of-her-darker-days-as-an-amphetamine-addicted-writer-living-on-the-Bowery, jive. There's no, you-snarky-little-shits-who-do-you-think-you-are-prying-into-someone-else's-life, biz. She simply would like very much to meet us and talk more about our project. Probably over Toll-House cookies; actually, maybe pot-brownies would be more like it. She said she's an astrologer and a musician in Mendocino, CA. In fact, her third book was finished in Peter Tork's (the Monkee) spare bedroom as he was participating in orgies downstairs. What is the right verb to couple with orgy?? Do you engage in them? Maybe conduct? She seems happy and centered, anyway. It ain't Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski, but it sure made me happy to meet with goodwill.

So that's a little bit awesome.

As for Pleasant Plains Farms, it's significantly less awesome. At least it is in Rowan's mind. Rowan (I should've asked Antonia about the Laugh-In thing. Shit!!) devises a ruse to leave dinner and go outside. Something about leaving her pocketbook in Reshevsky's car. She takes Reshevsky's keys and heads to the birch grove where Cater awaits. It's a lot of buildup for little action, though, as Rowan merely tells Cater that the Tibetan Museum date was postponed until tomorrow, and, as a result so is Cater's transmission of whatever he knows about the events of the past week. What does transpire, however, is a kiss between the two, initiated by MCAT (I'm calling him "the Doctor" from now on.) Rowan of course pulls some coquettish disapproval stuff on him, but you can tell she really wants him. If the way to a man's heart is through his own stomach, the way to a woman's is through another woman. Rowan seems like a really smart, reflective, but naive, volatile and lovesick type. She's the kind you don't want to spurn. The editor even wrote "this girl is a mental defective!!!" in the margin. For the most part this editor has been, fairly passive, sticking to issues of grammar for most of the story, jumping in with some style comments here and there. You know it says something when she/he offers unsolicited opinions on the mental faculties of the characters.
Just prior to the kiss, the Doctor dragged Rowan to the ground to avoid being spotted by the departing Braithwaites. Covered in mud and leaves from that incident, she was then whipped in the face by a branch leaving a mark on her cheek. She has also dropped the keys along the way. So, back from a simple trip to fetch a pocketbook, she looks as if she was kept against her will at Rick James's place for two weeks. She makes up a story about tripping and being too embarrassed to come back inside with the guests still around, but James Kee gives her the twice-over and seems very suspicious.

The next day Kee says to the Count that the keys weren't on the path between the house and the car. I'm guessing this comes back to haunt her.

Reshevsky and Rowan leave together in his car on their way to the Tibetan Museum in Staten Island...

Hoo-ray for finding Antonia!!!

Your turn, Cee.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Part 15 - iced coffee, a first date and a louse


it's funny how unemployment makes one question so many of the mundane decisions that are made on a daily basis; do I really need that coffee from Grumpy's.... is hummus considered a luxury item or is it a necessary snack? Anyway, welcome to the ranks of the unemployed!
I thoroughly enjoyed our lunch time meeting today at Tillies. I'm excited for our field trip next Wednesday (oh, it's been so long since I've gone on a field trip.... i definitley remember one particularly boring one when I was 13 where we visited the sewage treatment plant).And of course, I'll be on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the results of your phone call. We have reverted back to being young 14 year old adolescents asking our crushes out on dates... 'what will she say...' 'do I need to practice my lines first?'....

Back to Reshevsky. I'm intrigued by him. Due to the large portions of text blacked out in my last section (and in this section too), I am unclear as to his exact level of odiousness. My section begins with their continued conversation in his bachelor pad, which as Reshevsky remarks 'is rather dusty'. He claims that Rowan and her aunt are victims of their own 'emotionalism', a term that when Googled leads you to the a wikipedia entry for the Avett Brother's album of the same name. Rowan is left cold and haunted by his admission that he is completely devoid of emotion. However, she is not uncomfortable enough to forego a trip with him to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal (this I'm pretty sure would be a great field trip, but one that would fall under the category 'luxury and therefore unnecessary' in my list of things I allow myself to do). Unfortunately by now, the day has slipped away from them and they aren't able to make it to the Tibetan Museum, which means Rowan is unable to meet Matt Cater.

At dinner when she next encounters Matt, he is in good spirits and entertaining the Braithwaites (whom you may remember were also present the night of the tragic death of the monk). Apparently Matt as well as being a botanist is also a published writer (Rowan refers to him as a 'louse' - she is clearly still unable to trust him).

Matt manages to sneak a note into her palm, asking her to meet him at the 'copse of birches across road left side of gate eleven-five sharp' (and thanks again for wikipedia's definition of copse: However this supposed meeting is less than an hour away, and while Matt makes his farewells, her aunt begins to press Rowan to join them for brandy in the living room.... how on earth will our Rowan make her getaway? What will transpire in the 'copse of birches'???

You're up!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Part 14 - unemployment, Russian Tzars and grammar

Yo, Cee
So, today is my first official day of unemployment and it feels a bit odd. I've been working more than full-time for six years now, and, suddenly, here I am waking up to Regis and Kelly. Last time I watched this show there was a different woman on. Kind of sad to be reminded of passing time...cue the intro to Taxi or a Supertramp song.

Funny I just got a call from Caren, and thought "I can't believe this, my first day of unemployment, I'm looking for jobs and here's my old boss calling to resolve something I've put way behind me." It turns out that it was an accident; seems she and Peter are mountain biking or hiking somewhere. I could hear crunching rocks and her shouting directions.

The Tibetan museum would actually be a nice excursion. We should do it. Only problem is, I called the Dept. of Labor and asked them about what would happen if I were to sell any art while on unemployment. To my amazement, anything I sell that was made before unemployment doesn't affect my claim. However, any work I do in the studio counts as labor to be deducted from my check, as I would be working on "salable commodities." After I found this out, I asked the agent if I could make "practice work," to which he offered me a tentative "I don't think so."

"So what about a sketch book?"


"Can I imagine art?"


"Can I open my eyes in the morning or should I keep closed all day?"


"Can I make love, because post-coital relaxation is really the crucible for all good thought; it's honestly more important than studio time...."


Point is, I may not be ALLOWED to go to the Tibetan Museum, as determined by the NY State Dept. of Labor, but let's throw caution to the wind and go next week...if I have to claim it as a day of employment, so be it.

So Reshevsky's on the prowl. You can definitely sense that he wants to pin Rowan to a tree even though those details have been stricken from the narrative record. Rowan agrees to hit Grant's Tomb and the Tibetan Museum with him the next day. Reshevsky finally feels gratified, but he obviously doesn't know about the secret meeting with Cater.

An aside here: two days ago Heidi came home and said she had words with her intern for making a bunch of grammatical mistakes on a really important grant application. Defensively, the young intern defended herself over the use of "Grants Tomb," without the possessive..and apparently they went to the mat over it. Heidi is very passive and congenial except for some reason when it comes to style and grammar..and then she's a bobcat. I had to send her a copy of the usage to show her intern. Funny, huh?

On her way to breakfast, Rowan sees Mrs. Chow crying. She finds out from Lucy that this is because Ah Sing was fired. Lucy holds that he will be fine because of his pension and because "the Chinese are very big on family duty." Is this true my resident Chinese sociologist? Are you "big on family?" Or is it 'Orientals' in general??

Lucy says his removal was because he was beginning to "dodder." Lucy and Rowan then exchange glances before Rowan departs telling herself that she wishes the meeting with Cater would be over so she could make some decisions and go home.

Reshevsky and Rowan head into Manhattan, where he surprises her with a sidetrip to his bachelor pad at 111th and Riverside Drive. Rowan remarks that the digs are a little meager for a count. Interestingly, Reshevsky provides us with some personal history, which is initiated by Rowan's interest in a portrait of the Count's father.This historical sidebar is really coincidental because I woke up today and decided that I wanted to read more about the days leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution through the Stalinist blackout. This impulse came about after re-reading a Peter Schjeldahl review of the 2003 Malevich show at the Guggenheim and thought how amazing the fight for geometric abstraction has been through the years. For some it was a revolution; for others it signified bourgeois decadence. It's weird how they've been marshaled by various interests to fit their agendas.

So, it seems Reshevsky's parents were probably Tzarists from the old guard. His father was "eased from this world with the aid of several pounds of lead" in 1921. His mother died in 1917 when their estate was burned. After these details are revealed, Reshevsky goes into a short philosophical flourish which is actually quite well done.

Reshevsky says basically that he does not want pity and that deprivation and bereavement have made him less vulnerable. As a result he seeks pleasure and comfort only. Rowan protests claiming that, on the contrary, Reshevsky is not cold and uncaring, to which he responds "lack of pain, my dear girl, is not necessarily pleasure."

Well done! I do like Reshevsky's character. I think Ms. Lamb might have actually known a Reshevsky...or maybe he's based on some Noel Coward character. But, whatever, he's tighter than the rest.

Back atcha Cee,