Saturday, November 10, 2007

and I never got to argue with him sober. . .

Norman Mailer, Outspoken Novelist, Dies at 84 - New York Times -- One of my best imaginary friends died over the weekend. Mailer and I hadn't actually spoken since the fall of 1968. I was just out of college and dangling between going to Canada, wearing a dress, commissioning obscene tattoos, and succumbing to the draft. Just to set the record straight, I got tired of the suspense and enlisted just before Woodstock, and I gave my concert tickets to a friend from Cornell.

Anyway, back to Mailer. My friend Dan Cody from Wrentham, Massachusetts, had been hanging around Provincetown for a while, being introduced around to the arts colony there initially when he was hooked up with Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady, and the Merry Pranksters with the Magic Bus, so he knew Mailer well enough to get drunk with him, which everybody did back then. We were there to gawk at a new phenomenon of the late '60s, the Drag Queen's Ball (and Parade), and we spent the late morning and all afternoon getting fortified. This was not the sort of thing we felt we could view straight or sober. Somehow, as the day wore on, Mailer and I engaged and squared off across a small table. We proceeded to argue, speaking in tongues, it seems, like weird twins inventing their own language. Nobody else knew what we were talking about, but it was heated, from what I was told. I suppose it was about American literature, and the novel; I was still passionate about those things back then.

Over the years, I've followed his career; I first felt a kinship with him when I devoured The Naked and the Dead early in my college readings. I really liked his subsequent alpha-male idea about being in training to become "a sexual athlete." His later feuds-in-full with Tom Wolfe were hilarious, as in this piece from a Guardian article stemming from Wolfe's essay about The Three Stooges:

The Wolfe-Mailer feud is by far the oldest and cattiest of the three. As far back as 1989, Mailer remarked: "In my mind, there is something silly about a man who wears a white suit all the time, especially in New York."

Wolfe brushed off the sartorial attack, simply pointing out that "the lead dog is the one they always try to bite in the ass". To which Mailer quickly responded: "It doesn't mean you're the top dog just because your ass is bleeding."

Deep below the multiple layers of bitchiness, it is possible to pick out a substantive battle over the future of American novel.

Also over the years, it's been comforting to know he was around, still pugnacious, fighting the good fight, keeping things stirred up to the best of his ability, making his transitions just ahead of me, hanging out around Provincetown. Looking back on it all, he was one of his own better creations.

1 comment:

  1. That's one hell of a war story, Tim. Jesus, almost sent shivers up my spine. Thanks for sharing it.