Chapter Three: A Pair of Blue Eyes

THE night after J. arrived, he met a girl with the most dolorous eyes in the whole damned world, blue as autumn distance, true forget-me-not blue, Yves Klein canvases, plangent like the off-kilter Teutonic contralto version of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” that Nico never recorded, that only existed in this girl’s eyes. She was nothing less than The Cynosure of Connecticut, but for the sake of space, let’s call her Blue.

Blue and J. were first introduced at a welcome-to-wherever-you-are dinner party thrown for him chez elle by Blue’s mother (Blue Sr.), a friend of J.’s uncle. The two Blues lived in a small blue (of course) two-story folk Victorian furnished with secondhand pieces selected by a sensibility tuned to value by birth, kitsch by disposition, and economy by circumstances. A reproduction of the peripatetic painter Samuel Miller’s “Young Boy with Dog” in the entryway startled visitors with the corpse-flat gazes of its eponymous subjects. In the living room, a blood-red throw pillow imprinted with the image of a sepulchral Depression-era clown raising his hands in supplication could have served as Exhibit A in Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp.’ ” The stuffed singing rabbi spoke for itself.

All the framed photographs that ran along the fireplace mantelpiece featured Blue Sr. and Blue, both together and alone. Within their hermetically sealed home, each provided sufficient illumination and warmth for the other. From this cozy vantage, the rest of the world appeared as little more than shadows cast against a screen, amusing, occasionally even affecting, but shadows nonetheless.

Through the kitchen lay Blue’s bedroom. It smelled like the musty miles of aisles at The Strand, J. thought as he crossed her threshold, like frankincense to a Catholic.

Blue’s walls were pinned with her winged dreams: posters of the Parthenon, temple to gray-eyed Athena; the Eiffel Tower; the Arc de Triomphe; a Dutch windmill; a Nicolosi projection of the world; vintage travel ads for the Occident and Orient; a bulletin board barnacled with ivy-league postcards, pamphlets, and pennants.

J.’s eyes and hands lingered on her books packed end to end and top to bottom upon her concaved shelves, the overflow blooming in low stacks on all available surfaces, each title folded, spindled, and mutilated with the doting brutality of a Gallic irregular toward her dance partner (with apologies both here and throughout to W. G. Glass). In one small corner alone of Blue’s heterodox collection, The Scarecrow of Oz pressed against Leaves of Grass, Charlotte’s Web blanketed Moby-Dick and a Nietzsche reader, and Anna Karenina kibitzed with Huckleberry Finn.

Despite the opacity of her bespoke classificatory system, the bulk of Blue’s books could be loosely labeled as recommended reading for an Independent Study of Notable Dead Woman: Tragic Lives/Tragic Deaths. A lavalier microphone clipped to the consciousness of Clarissa Dalloway also caught Virginia Woolf’s adjacent Cantabrigian lectures. Sylvia Plath’s slim novel about the summer that Esther Greenwood spent in NYC rode shotgun to her own zaftig unabridged journals. Mary McCarthy burned bridges with the Vassar class of '33 and had enough fuel left over to immolate Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill, Nixon, et al. in her articles (set that many fires and you’d die of lung cancer, too). In this manner, Blue appended a novel or short story collection with Selected Letters or Essays or Biographies; the overlaps formed maps to the capitals of undiscovered countries by way of narrow paths paved with the chopped, pulped, screened, pressed, dried, inked, and perfect-bound bones of those who had passed before.

Blue seemed a window through which J. could see the world. Perhaps he could escape through her, too, if he could figure out the latch. But first, he had to survive this party, a first-ditch iron-lung attempt to acclimate him to the pressure drop. He cadged a Heineken from the fridge, anesthetic to dull the pain of the procedure. The Chief Resident, Blue Sr., found the patient on her back porch attempting to self-administer the anodyne. She took vitals, tested reflexes, amputated the beer, and drew some blood.

“In all my years, I’ve never seen such a severe case of cultural decompression,” Blue Sr. said.

“What’s the prognosis?” J. asked.

“Terminally incorrigible.”

“I’d like a second opinion.”

Chelsea Girl is better than Transformer.”

J. stiffed her on the copay and skulked back to his uncle’s place before dinner with a book from Blue’s shelves secreted away in his back pocket — alea jacta est — to watch the Bronx Zoo crawl out of an 0–2 deficit against the Diamondbacks by taking Game Three of the World Series thanks to Clemens’ deadly splitter and Brosius’s tie-breaking rib eye.

As Matt the Bat grounded out, closing the game, an ipecac of hope churned in J.’s guts. He opened Blue’s book, a small square volume of poetry by Irwin Allen Garden, took out a Bic, and underlined the dedication to a Solemn Man, noting that this was −perhaps− the greatest love poem ever written. J. also noted that Garden, cast out from the Land of Columbus, erected a dreamy cottage in the Western night of Rockland where he sipped tea with other children of the American bop night. That Francis DaPavia had a staggering angelic vision. That Cody Pomeray loved his way in and out of Denver and on the road. That a Crane flew off the Brooklyn Bridge (this actually happened). That Old Bull Lee withdrew to Morocco. That the Solemn Man hurled the potato salad. That J. once wrote down every six-letter word he could think of that mother might be. That Moloch foretold the advent of eternal war. That Duluoz gave the poem a name.

***

BOTH grifters and magicians benefit from dexterous fingers and a gift for misdirection, and J. had picked up some simple tricks from the shill, who likely saw J. as a second-story man in the making. The following evening, J. crossed paths with Blue while out walking through the town’s solitary streets and returned her newly annotated book, his only attempt at everyday impossible actual honest-to-God magic: a second chance for a first meeting. Her small smile lit a brief but bright lens flare in her clear-sky eyes when she flipped through its pages, saw his ballpointed scrawl, and looked up to find the same boy as before but also — presto chango — a brand new J. As Blue sailed away into the supernatural darkness, Howl in hand, she fired off a parting pop quiz to confirm his credentials — “Who the dickens could Boz be?” J. caught her shot — “Chuck D” — but she had already struck him square through the sternum with a bolt from the —

***

THAT Sunday, the Yankees lost a heart-pulping Game Seven played upon the irrigated Arizonan desert. As the Snakes swarmed Bell at the dish, the camera cut to Torre and almost immediately cut away, flinching from the molten silent suffering poured into his wax-cast face, an expression fit for the crowd at Calvary. J. turned off the television and stared at his warped visage in the cathode-warmed glass as a vast cement-gray sadness enveloped him. For the first time since his advent, he felt bereft of his home, his friends, himself.

The universe apportions only so much good fortune to each atman per samsara spin. If just once in your otherwise miserable life, love — weight of the world, miracle burning with purity, burden of life you wearily carry — crosses your path, you might as well say goodbye to poker and the Yankees right then and there; such luck will wipe out your credit with Ganesh for one, ten, a hundred, ten thousand lifetimes strung together in a metempsychotic chain across the vast length of a mahamanvantara. Maybe all you blessless losers can take comfort in the possibility that, even if only in some distant past life, you souls once knew love, true love.

5 smelly guys in a cramped room on Locust Street putting out about 3 books a month. #GilmoreGirls