Thursday, October 22, 2009

Part 27 - a smackdown in Under Armour.

Oh Shane, my section is precious. I read it greedily over my bowl of morning oatmeal (oatmeal - not a luxury, but unfortunately I still don't find it particularly tasty), and would have laughed several times out loud, was it not for my mouthful of breakfast. And what a miserable morning it is; I had been looking forward to our field trip to Staten Island but standing around in a suburban wasteland in rainy 45 degree weather sounds terrible.

Which reminds me I need to buy some Under Armour leggings for my trek this upcoming January. I think we've bonded before over our hatred of cold weather and every additional year I spend away from subtropical climate, I am reminded that I am a creature of warmth.

None of what happens in my five pages makes sense, but I was so desperate for a change of pace - something other than the lovesick pining of a 24 year old girl - that every single delicious detail was savored, licked and swallowed whole.

Our Rowan awakes, groggy and in pain, finding herself gagged and tied at the wrists and ankles, in the shack where the generator is in the back of the Greenhouse. She finds a Korean gardener guarding her ... um, weren't they all supposed to Chinese gardeners? are we all interchangeable in 1960's America? And who else! It's Reshevsky! Dum dum dum de dum... ominous 'I knew it!' music plays... He barks at the gardener, telling him that the orders have changed, and he, Reshevsky is supposed to be in charge of the girl now. While this exchange takes place Rowan kicks herself for betraying herself to Reshevsky while simultaneously worrying about Matt. Was he being tortured? is he bound and gagged? is this supposed to turn into a weird erotic novel as I had proposed it would in the beginning?
Just as Rowan begins to worry about Matt she overhears Reshevsky imperiously tell the Korean to go tend to the other man with the questioning (and the Korean obeys, just as 'his peasant ancestors no doubt obeyed their Emperor').

Its interesting to note that Rowan never doubted that Matt was also in custody. If I suddenly found myself poisoned, gagged and held prisoner in a shack I have a feeling I would think everyone was in on the plot - but then again maybe I've never been in love with Matt Cater.

Reshevsky then proceeds to remove her gag and in the manner of the James Bond villain proceeds to tell her everything about the evil plot. What a wonderfully convenient plot device, especially as we only have 30 pages left in the novel. One tasty little morsel we discover is that Reshevsky wishes Kee would use scopolamine (a truth serum!) on Cater, rather than traditional pain.

Reshevsky, like all gentleman villains, of course confesses he thoroughly enjoyed Rowan's company, and considered her a real friend. And like all gentleman villains, he has a dark past which has forced him into his current role - apparently he dabbled in espionage (much like someone would perhaps dabble in recreational drugs?) when younger... he flippantly references some sort of 'treaty'. It was Rowan's aunt who found him, and manipulated him, which would be a fairly standard plot turn, if it not for the fact that Reshevsky reveals that her aunt is a heroin addict! A junkie! This was the cause of one of my near-breakfast accidents with the oatmeal.

Ah ha! it all comes together ... the found needle... her aunt's odd emotional turns... Could it be? Have her aunt and Kee been shipping heroin, or perhaps poppies, out of the greenhouse? Are they the modern Taliban?

It was that needle that Rowan found that made her aunt want to kill her (although exactly why Rowan needs to be tied up, and Matt tortured and interrogated is still beyond me - its not like Rowan had figured anything out). It seems like Kee and the aunt have a habit of eliminating characters though - Ah Sing's disappearance was credited to Kee, and in a crossed out section I'm able to make out that Milly's predecessor (who is that by the way?) also had a habit of 'listening at keyholes', thus necessitating an elimination.

Anyway, this is fun stuff. I'm looking forward to your next section. I have no clue how on earth Rowan's aunt, who is apparently a junkie gardener trying to smuggle things clandestinely from her greenhouse, would even bother with the trouble of killing Rowan.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Part 26 - Monopoly with Timothy Leary and Danielle Steele

Cee ditty,

So, just like that, after most of 24 chapters with barely a gasp's worth of real drama, the ice is broken...

I had little hope for my section when it picked up with the Count and Rowan playing an uncompetitive game of Monopoly. The second half of your final sentence "I would have..." by the way, is, "been even more amazed at the nonchalant ease of Reshevsky at the game." So that didn't bode well for a nail-bitey five pages. It looked to be going in the same direction as the last few sections: dialing up the dramatic tension and releasing the pressure uneventfully in a rambling interior monologue by our helpless protagonist. But not this time.

The Monopoly game is interrupted by an icy dinner in which Aunt Lucy urges Rowan to be prepared for her morning flight. "We wouldn't want to miss it, now, would we, dear?" Lucy warns. Rowan responds like an impudent teenager, "I imagine not." When I read this, I envisioned Rowan as Akayla Herzberg. Rowan bolts from dinner abruptly and goes upstairs to pack her belongings "with no pretense at efficiency." She packs like I do when returning from a beery trip to Barcelona; by hurriedly throwing everything in a single bag to sort it out at a later date. In the packing frenzy, Rowan's mind drifts, as it often does, toward thoughts of Cater's arms. She wonders if it would be better to cancel the 10 PM meeting with, the phones can't be trusted...and how sweet it'd be to be in his grasp one last time. Ahhhh, like a warm bath.

The passage that follows rivals Danielle Steele in its schmalziness. Rowan describes in maudlin detail her feelings of infatuation. She talks of "quickened heartbeats" and "shivering inside (changed by the editor to 'up and down') my spine" and "strange bonds of mutual acceptance..." Yuck! The whole monologue went down like a Richard Marx song. I hadn't squirmed in my seat so much since I went to see Beaches with Tracy Tapp in 10th grade. Without going to much sappy detail, we'll suffice it to say that Rowan harbors thoughts of a productive future with Matt 'the doctor' Cater.

After packing her things, Rowan heads downstairs to resume the Monopoly game in anticipation of her tryst with Matt. Rowan goes quiet and Reshevsky nervously chain smokes as the clock closes in on 10. Interestingly, Lamb initially writes, "[Reshevsky] smoked cigarette after cigarette only to impatiently stub each one out before ten puffs were taken." The editor takes the liberty of changing "five" to "ten," apparently realizing that ten puffs would come pretty close to getting through a cigarette and would therefor be unremarkable as a sign of nervousness.

Rowan finally decides to make her escape into the damp evening. Reshevsky covers her. She arrives to the copse of trees on the other side of the flagstone walk a little early and congratulates herself on her puncuality. Just then the bushes rustle. Rowan, as would be expected, assumes it's Cater. Just like that, a whistle goes off, dark figures surround her and a pair of rough hands grab her by the hair and yank her backward. She gasps in pain, kicks violently only to be subdued as a cold needle enters her bicep. She hears Cater calling for her, but not before consciousness yields to a field of rainbows and pinwheels...maybe Timothy Leary is the culprit.

Then all goes black...Maybe Rob Halford is the culprit.

We got a game. Don't go to bed yet, Cee.

Have at it..

Part 25 - roast duck and inaction

Holy crap - how on earth did I get stuck with the most boring 5 pages in the entire novel? No - I cannot offer you anything that will make your blood churn, your eyes widen, nor even anything to arouse any other part of you, despite the promise of the previous chapter's sensual dancing.

My section begins with our dear Rowan wandering down to the kitchen where she tries to engage Mrs.Chow in conversation, but duck roasting isn't particularly interesting to Rowan so she leaves. Actually what I would like to do is reconstruct a whole meal based on all the food items that are mentioned in the book. I don't feel as though I've learnt anything about poisonous plants yet, but have learnt so much about haute cuisine of the late 1960's. Until then, here's a video of Anthony Bourdain eating roast duck in Beijing:

Rowan then continues her meandering, and heads towards the greenhouse. There she bumps into workmen who are busy hauling pots of orchids about; 'Cattleyas Trianae' to be exact. It appears that her aunt is preparing for some large shipment to San Francisco (or so she says.... the complete lack of action thus far has made me imagine dark back stories and plot twists into every mundane detail.). It's at this point that her aunt tells her that she's had Kee arrange for a morning flight back to San Francisco for her! Hooray! Reshevsky (who is also in the greenhouse) gives Rowan the sign for 'all is okay' - the circling of the thumb and forefinger. I was going to w
rite the 'universal' sign for okay, but thanks to Wikipedia, I've been put straight. Do not make that sign in Turkey or Venezuala as you will be referring to the anus of a homosexual man. Unless you were maybe looking for one, in which case, you're all set.

So there we have it - Rowan's biggest problem has now been solved, thanks to Reshevsky's persuasive ways. Her aunt has bought her a ticket back to San Francisco for her. That's it. No more mention of the Reds, or of odd glass syringes and poisonous plants. All Rowan has to occupy herself with is this upcoming meeting with Matt Cater.

The last paragraph of my section becomes surreal - the author begins to com
ment on the complete lack of action going on in the novel. This insertion of an external evaluation of the lack of momentum of the plot is the first I've seen so far. The author has Rowan and Reshevsky converse about how they should spend their rest of the day. Should they play bridge? No - apparently Reshevsky thinks its an appalling game. They will play Monopoly instead! And that is what they did - for the next FIVE hours.My section does end with the sentence 'if I had known during the game what I found out soon after, I would have....'.

so you're up. give me something to work with other than images of consommes and roast duck.

Part 24 - a non Eureka moment, a breathless young woman and gyrating dancing

Cee Mak,

Unfortunately, Reshevsky's Eureka moment is a bit of a dud, more of a Topeka moment. Problem is, like much of the story so far, there is no clear danger or restriction to have to plan around, which tends to remove the potential for creative subterfuge. I keep having to ask myself what the conflict is, and my amazement doesn't cease whenever I realize that it is simply that her aunt won't let her go home. Meanwhile she's going to discotheques with a Russian count until the wee hours. Kee isn't tailing them with a gun; no one's threatening her family; there's been no horse heads found in her bed.

Reshevsky's plan is, get this, to leave the breathless young woman A MESSAGE. Yes, do that, leave a message, Rowan. So she leaves a message that Cater should meet her at 10 P.M. Reshevsky's great idea is his choosing of a spot that would not be conspicuous: their house. Because she is staying there and no one will get suspicious. That's the clever idea! If Rowan lives through this, I'll bet she ends up dying in five years while viewing the end of Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston happens upon the Statue of Liberty - it'll be too much of a mindfuck for her and "boom" her heart will shoot out her nose.

In the process of enlisting Reshevsky, Rowan ends up divulging some details about her situation to him, the indiscretion of which only hits her the next morning. That's because Rowan is shitfaced. Her and the Count go to a dance club filled with "oddly gyrating young men and women," which Reshevsky has a "degenerate urge to enjoy." Typical Russian Count, geez, they're all the same. Afterwards, Rowan passes out in the car (I think this is a reflex when returning to Staten Island) and wakes the next morning with dry mouth and no memory of disrobing. This part I could truly relate to.

The next morning, Millie approaches Rowan and secretively tells her that she's been instructed not to speak to her. When this happens Rowan notes that "Reshevsky is "one of them." For a moment I was very surprised, feeling that I had missed a crucial detail. And, actually, I still don't know how Millie not being able to talk to Rowan implicates Reshevsky. Do you know? For a few short pages I thought we had a real plot twist, but towards the end of my section Rowan reconsiders the circumstances, and comes to believe the restriction could be part of a "general plan" that would not necessarily suggest the Count's involvement in a conspiracy. Would SOMEONE just do something decisive, already! I need hands in blenders, bodies in bags, "paws" in car grills. Give me some action, pleeease. I'm a slow-movie kind of guy; I sat through "Windwalker," viewed "The English Patient" twice in one night on and even got through a half an hour of Andy Warhol's, "Empire," before giving up, but EVERYONE has limits.

There's a funny passage at the end of my section:

Rowan asks Kee where Reshevsky is: "He is in the Greenhouse with Mrs. Dickson today," said the Chinese.

It's been a while since I could call someone "the Chinese" and not have to regret it.

I was watching Gilligan's Island the other day - remember I'm jobless - and something occurred to me. When I watched G.I. as a kid, I anticipated them getting rescued on every show, until, of course, Gilligan would forget to fasten something and the S.S. Minnow would sink in the lagoon. It wasn't until I was 11 or 12 that I began to see the show from a structural perspective, realizing that for the show to be sustainable as a revenue generator, the crew had to remain marooned indefinitely (it was only after the show was cancelled that they finally escape that somehow involved the Harlem Globetrotters.) When I realized this, G.I. stopped being interesting to me. It was a moment of enlightenment. Similarly, to this day I can't stand Liam Neeson because, around the time I stopped watching G.I., I saw him on a talk show and realized that the entire interview was scripted. I lost my media virginity to Liam Neeson and Bob Denver. So that sucks.

But about the Greenhouse; to enjoy reading it I think I have to channel my inner 10 year old that could watch Scooby Doo or read Hardy Boys all day and feel completely enveloped by the world they created. The Mystery of the Chinese Junk seemed exotic and dangerous with all the Chinese boats, smugglers and New York harbors. A few years ago I tried to read it again for nostalgia and realized that it is essentially the same as every other HB book. But when I was eight it didn't matter, all l I needed was a secure plot scaffold to hang various settings and details. The Arctic Patrol Mystery put me in Reykjavik; the Mystery of the Aztec Warrior transported me to Mexico. While the Clock Ticked put a clock I guess, but it was awesome.

If I could read the Greenhouse as a 9 year old, I think it would be quite intriguing.

Now, if Reshevsky's in on it and there's actually some action going down, I'll hit my next section like a 25 year old.

Give me something good, Cee.


Part 23 - porcupines and a Eureka moment

Its now my turn to be off the radar for a while. We're heading up to the Adirondacks for a 5 day camping trip in the High Peaks region. So, not so much booze-soaked, as say sweat and dirt covered, and probably craving an ice cold beer by day 2. Hopefully I'll see a couple of porcupines. Have I mention I'm now obsessed with trying to find real porcupines? Growing up in Hong Kong the extent of my exposure to animals was the occasional field trip to a 'farm', and coming across cows (which are amazing climbers by the way) when hiking.And speak of cows and Hong Kong, I came across this wonderfully cute story about a woman trying to save wild cows:

Your note passing story reminded me of the elaborately constructed systems children concoct for themselves - how everything seemed to be so important, and every step so critical to some final, indeterminate goal. I think I was too much of a conscientious (a word that I'm pretty sure was on most of my school reports) student to pass notes, but I have this awesome memory of building this complicated structure out of rulers, pencils, books etc with the guy who sat
next to me in 3rd grade, so that we could borrow each others erasers/ color pencils/ pencil sharpener, without ever reaching over and using our hands - some type of Fischl-Weiss device.
Regarding the private/ public nature of this blog and this project in general, I often wonder how much of has to do with the nature of typing onto a computer versus say, having to hand-write all our correspondance. I'm going to demand that one of our correspondances be done via snail mail. It'll be an interesting comparison.
But even beyond the mechanics of how this project is done, the whole nature of this project is really about us inserting ourselves into what should have been a discarded, private manuscript. We've given ourselves carte blanche to freely comment (and criticize) this foetal manuscript, snidely projecting our own memories and re-enactments on this proto-book.
But hell, how awesome the ride has been.

Anyway, speaking of rides.... as we begin my section, Kee is is driving Reshevsky and our Rowan down Third Avenue to some club, where throngs of decadent young people undulate to music, and Reshevsky has some table reserved for him with champagne (sounds like a typical night at one of those terrible Meatpacking bars). Rowan is clearly very happy to have her champagne flute constantly refilled, and as the night continues, she finds Reshevsky's company more and more enjoyable, and the decadence of the club more acceptable. It's wonderful how alcohol affects all people the same regardless of what decade they live in . Under the guise of going to use the ladies room, she finds a phone that is shielded from Reshevsky and dials the number that supposedly is Matt Cater's. Unfortunately some breathless sounding young woman answers who is unable to tell Rowan where Matt is, or when he'll be back. And dear old Rowan, manages to even feel jealous for this unknown woman who may simply be his answering service.

Back at the table, she promptly BURSTS into tears in front of Reshevsky and is unable to calm herself down. She then proceeds to break down and after some cursory prodding by Reshevsky, she breaks down and tells him that her aunt won't let her leave, there's some sort of unsavoury business abound and Matt had promised he would help. Reshevsky remains icily calm, and insists that he will try to help her. And as luck would have it, at the very bottom of my last page, he has a Eureka moment - snaps his fingers and says ....

You're up. Don't let me down. I must know what Reshevsky's brilliant plan is.

Part 22 - back from Portland, high school flashbacks and fancy French food


Sorry to be off the radar for a few days. I went to Portland, Oregon and, well aware of the social (read: booze-soaked) nature of my trip, thought better of taking any sections of the manuscript with me.

I had a really interesting flashback while writing my last entry that I forgot to mention. This whole
process reminded me of how I used to exchange notes with a girl in high-school. Her name was/is Tobi Wilson. I tried to contact her to see if she saved any of them, but no luck. I remember trying to make these correspondences multi-media works of art, with lists and drawings and gossip and all kinds of ephemera stuck to them. I think I blocked it out of my mind for a long time because it's a bit emasculating to imagine myself passing fastidiously decorated notes around to girls I wasn't intimate with, but as I thought about it longer, I realized such feelings of embarrassment are just layers of affectation I've accumulated since I was 15. I think I was so natural then that it's humiliating to think of how I acted. I picture myself as a chimpanzee in front a crowd of onlooking families at a zoo with a giant erection, and completely unselfconscious. It begs the question whether socialization makes you better or worse. Kind of a Hobbes/Locke
conundrum, I guess.

I'll post the notes if Ms. Wilson provides them.

It was only after a friend of mine read the blog that the private nature of the correspondence resonated with me. I've been writing pretty much willy-nilly and uninhibited, then this guy mentioned something I wrote, and it hit me that I was doing less-editing that I do for say my Brooklyn Rail reviews, which I have to say I pour over with a lot of scrutiny. I recognized it was how I wrote when I was 15....and then I considered what I would do if everyone I knew right now got a hold of my notes from 1991 and how different that is than what I'm doing with this manuscript of the Greenhouse. Hmmmm...

These thoughts are especially true in sections like my most recent, because, though most of this book exists in the public record, the edited section feel very private. The one time my editorial notes were actually reprinted in an art review, I was mortified...though it says a lot that people couldn't distinguish them from art speak. But it still felt like a breach of privacy for some reason.

So to the plot...

Like I said, a lot of it's crossed out; it looks like some kind of pre 9/11 security briefing that was redacted. Lucky for my nosey nature, red colored pencil is semi transparent and most of it is still legible.

As I pick up, James Kee, Reshevsky and our young heroine are dumped into lower Manhattan at Battery Park. They move at a snail's pace up the west
side (how about that for realism), until Reshevsky gets impatient and jumps out of the car, escorting Rowan the last few blocks to Chez Whateveritis.

When they arrive they take a table for two and order a bottle of Graves '62, which from very basic Google-research, is apparently a classic. Reshevksy peacocks his "gastronomic pedantry" as Rowan stews about where in the joint the phone is. Because of her preoccupation, she apparently throws manners and decorum to the wind and acts, according to the Count as a "greedy little girl."

I love how in 1970 all the good food consisted of standard dishes named after a creator or a point of origin. For dinner Reshevsky had Oiseaux De Veux and Rowan picked nervously at a sole almondine. And they shared crepes suzette for dessert. I was thinking about all the throw back dishes: lobster themador, bananas foster, clams casino, etc. etc. How funny what a prescription it was. So far from clam foam with freeze-dried sweetbreads with bruised rhubarb ragout. Clearly all my knowledge of these dishes comes from Fletch...and clearly I shouldn't become a chef.

Anyway, Rowan slips off to the ladies room and realizes the phone is within eyeshot and cannot make the call without giving herself away. Yoo hoo, use your cell phone sistah!!! I don't know what just happened.

The scene ends, not with a major plot twist, but with Rowan deeply offending Reshevsky by suggesting that he's wasting his life being used as a social pawn. Reshevsky proceeds to excoriate her with all the class you'd expect from a count, which inspires a sulky interior monologue that lingers until the last sentence in my five-page section. Sorry, Cee, I wanted to give you so much more than crepes suzette and sulks.

Oh well.

batter up,