29 January 2014

Teach Us to Grow

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 4:20 pm

Why is a certain party growing a mustache? Because, I’m told, the electric shaver pulls the hairs under his nose and he yells, and nobody who shaves him wants to get yelled at. You can use the electric nose hair trimmer on his mustache if you want, I’m advised.

At dinner I pull a book randomly off one of the shelves nearest the table. Turning to the first page I read the first line aloud:

Deep one night he was trimming his nose that would never walk again into sunlight atop living legs, busily feeling every hair with a Rotex rotary nostril clipper as if to make his nostrils as bare as a monkey’s…

When was this book published? Copyright 1977, though I suppose that the four short Kenzaburō Ōe novels compiled in this volume had appeared in print in Japan before then. Halfway down the frontispiece is an acknowledgment:

Happy Days Are Here Again,” copyright © 1929  WARNER BROS. INC.

Just this morning, for the first time since he’d moved in with us, a certain party broke into song: “Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again.”

Frequently, for the benefit of those who came and went around his bed (who, although they were certain to outlive him, lying in bed awaiting the moment of his own death as if it had been finally scheduled, were treated by him as if they were already among the dead), not necessarily to flaunt his happiness but simply to enjoy the sounds that reached his ear along his jawbone from his own eccentric vocal chords, and to revel in the furtive, complex sympathetic resonation of his internal organs, pregnant now with cancer cells, he would sing, in English, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

It’s been nearly two months now since a certain party moved in with us. He calls the cat Chicken. Sometimes when looking at the cat he sees two chickens, as if the writhing tail were a separate creature. If the cat stops moving for half a minute he sees no chickens at all and starts calling for it to come back. He sees my feet as two chickens; he talks to them.

Why do you keep calling him a certain party? Can’t I change to “father”? When you say “a certain party” he sounds like an imaginary figure in a myth or in history, says the “acting executor of the will.” …At times I’ve thought to myself maybe I have been mad since I was three just as my mother says, and someday if I recover my sanity the phantom tormenting me I call a certain party will disappear. But I feel differently now; if I’m a madman, fine, I’m resolved to stay that way and continue sharing life with my favorite phantom, a certain party. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Yesterday he tripped and fell trying to get out of his chair; Anne and I propped him up under his armpits as he struggled to regain his feet.

And when the boy dropped to his knees on the ground that retained the midday warmth and threw his arms around the calf or thick pole of a leg a certain party was still laboring patiently to lift and tried to lend him strength, a certain party fell over on his back as unceremoniously as an infant but with a thud that shook the ground. Then his large, pitch-black penis sprang from the long-since buttonless fly of his “people’s” overalls, and he energetically urinated. The boy remained on his knees, chilled with a sense of failure, and the smelly urine wet his naked side and right buttock.

Though not yet incontinent, a certain party has very poor aim. Also, he sometimes mistakes the wastebasket or even the dark corner of the living room for a toilet. Presumably because of his enlarged prostate he has to urinate frequently. We have installed a rubber mat next to his bed that sounds an alarm when he steps onto it at night. The alarm sounds: one of us gets up, escorts a certain party to the toilet and back to bed if he gets lost on the way, helps him change his socks if he walks through the puddle on the bathroom floor, attempts to persuade him that his blankets aren’t some sort of ill-fitting gigantic clothing placed there to torment him, swabs up the mess afterward. He is not always easy to steer, inasmuch as his severe cognitive impairment is further compromised by a profound loss of hearing.

Exasperated by his refusal to remove the headphones, a resourceful doctor plugs a microphone into the tape recorder, connects the headphones to a monitor and begins to speak through them. It’s time we started being honest with one another about your condition, you must understand and cooperate. Your condition  .  .  .  Having swiftly broken the connection to his consciousness, “he” is deaf to any further disturbance from the outside. Gasping in the shrill voice of a ten-year-old on the verge of death, distorting the melody in a multitude of ways, “he” continues to sing, Let us sing a song of cheer again, Happy Days are here again!

Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness is the title of the volume. A certain party scrutinizes the cover with one squinted eye, attempting to compensate for his macular degeneration. “Teach us to grow,” he reads. “Teach us to grow,” he repeats, again and again.



  1. A few hours before that ‘Happy Days are Here Again’, I remembered when you wrote that on my bleug, it was when I was getting the ‘Psychotic Art Things’ done. I saw that they weren’t at all here again now. At least not in the sense they were then. A ‘Death in Venice’ scene is always bad, but I would have to say that I skillfully enough shortened it, even though, curiously, the ‘death’ was emphasized twice with the sudden cutoff. I understand that; he doesn’t have the resources to either continue as we were or fight me back when I punish him for the sudden attack (and I’m definitely already in the process. FUCK forgiveness, I now think. It’s often just license, and people often don’t forgive me, but tell me I should.)

    I had fortunately managed to get most of the characters fleshed out into very fictionalized forms, although I liked to use their real-life names (how can you beat Crawford Greenleaf?), and it’s even fun to do the bimbo writer-girl who thought she could steal Crawford’s things and pay her way back into Manhattan high life.

    Your experience is infinitely worse, even though I dropped my keys for 3 hours, and was sure I’d have to freeze to death while I got a locksmith; but when I got back from the post office, the bank way uptown and went to the disagreeable stationery store, I then noticed I didn’t have them in the usual place. So I buzzed one of the 2 or 3 neighbours I can stand, and they were on the floor untouched all during that time, because I’d reduced my 20 key-chain to 3 for most occasions.

    But I ran off again, in any case, I wouldn’t have commented now that chaos is totally the order of the day there, had there not been the ‘Happy Days…’ all of a sudden, and I hadn’t thought of it since you wrote it. Of course, there will be happy days for both of us again, in my case, I pushed through almost single-handedly (till the very end, in which someone helped me) Jack’s hernia operation, or he would have definitely gone out, given the depression from that combined with the Alzheimer’s. So we get to start the Mondays again next week for the first time in three months. The ‘Tadziu’ was already well involved in the endless letters, and once when he wanted to insult me he said “Oh what do I care, nobody reads your blog except John Doyle”. He later apologized for that, but that was the least of it.

    In fact, that was not true: A Swedish lesb’an reads it and quite frequently, as well as somebody from Russia all the time, have no idea who.


    Comment by Patrick — 29 January 2014 @ 9:19 pm

    • The ‘Tadziu’ was already well involved in the endless letters,

      As frequently, I lost my train of thought, I meant “The Tadziu was already well involved in the endless letters when Jack was still very much coming for the Mondays, that’s how far it went back, all the way back to the very end of August, when he ordered the books.

      Speaking of songs, it seemed sort of extraordinary that I chose ‘Together’ to emphasize, it was no more than 2 days at most before the beastly strike took place, so that could mean I was sensing that things were wearing then, but I by no means was conscious that a total breakdown was so near. Although in this case, the ‘in my memory we always will be together’. It was only the abyssal end, so violent and unexpected, that will be remembered, and it even cancels out all the previous experience, except what I derived from it alone. This is a case where I really don’t care what happens to the person, I usually have some lingering affection.


      Comment by Patrick — 29 January 2014 @ 9:26 pm

  2. “nobody reads your blog except John Doyle” — I’m guessing this refers to threats of public exposure. He’s right: I’m not liable to get in touch with his momma or to ruin his hetero social life with my inside info. As for it being a Death in Venice scene, it didn’t play that way from where I was sitting. He sounded hysterical, accusatory as well, as if you’d led him down the garden path toward a homoerotic bliss that proved false, and also jealous. A confused young bloke.

    I have to confess that I’ve not kept up to date on the serial installments about Crawford and company — not in the right frame of mind for it I suppose; will try to get caught up eventually. I’ve been reading Satantango, which revolves around a clutch of abject Hungarian peasants drunkenly waiting for their false messiah to lead them into freedom and ease. This probably isn’t the most mood-enhancing choice, but I’m finding it compelling. I understand the novel was made into a 7-hour film by Bela Tarr — definitely not in the mood for that one.

    “there will be happy days for both of us again” Thanks, Patrick, and I certainly hope you’re right. These days it seems that I’m best off trying to cultivate a low-grade dysthymia, since any sort of elevated affect frequently leads to frustration and rage. We find ourselves encouraging a certain party to walk into the light…


    Comment by ktismatics — 30 January 2014 @ 4:39 pm

  3. Sounds grim John I have to say. Best wishes from this quarter.


    Comment by ombhurbhuva — 30 January 2014 @ 7:50 pm

  4. Thanks Michael.


    Comment by ktismatics — 31 January 2014 @ 12:07 pm

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