Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.
Seth blames his adventures later that night on the speed hit JD gave him in the car, but in reality he drank much more than he realized (he confesses as much) at Teddy Wade’s party, an event he describes in the darkest possible terms, starting always with the rainstorm churning the streets in Beverly Glen into dark erratic rivers, skidding at intersections, losing his way on unlit roads that snake into each other in confusing patterns, and it’s true the downpour that night tops up the local reservoirs instead of missing them as usual, sends mudslides foaming through Malibu Canyon, right through houses, knocking homes off hillsides and devastating the areas scorched by the recent fires, besides causing an appalling number of freeway collisions. It keeps many of Teddy Wade’s guests at home, and one reason Seth says he drinks too much there is that when he arrives, having driven straight past Teddy Wade’s gate no fewer than six times because of some lacuna in his written directions (twice touring so far afield that he ends up in Benedict Canyon and passes the bottom of Cielo Drive, prompting him to hit the door lock control, ka-chunk, speed makes him paranoid), he discovers that the only people who’ve braved the ugly weather, the only people keen or socially desperate enough to hazard the flood-maze of hills and spillways around Teddy Wade’s sprawling house, are non-movie people Teddy Wade and his wife have evidently culled from the B phone book. Brokers and entertainment lawyers, some actors from a local theater group, an assortment of museum curators, two Fox radio reporters Seth sometimes sees at the courthouse, several chubby children in baseball caps and Royal Hawaiian Hotel t-shirts, and a tight, forbidding claque of New Yorkers who put Seth’s back up from across the living room before he even recognizes them.
The house has endless insides, what Teddy Wade probably calls “eclectic,” Seth thinks, the front area mainly Southwest Industrial: distressed steel furniture, sculpted floor lamps, Navajo rugs, sideboards with pottery, painted clay urns lurking in corners, humble-looking, priceless wooden tables, vanda orchids bursting from Chihuly vases, children’s drawings framed beside Picasso lithographs, the rooms bloated, with cavernous ceilings, adobe-warm colors on the walls, yawning spaces Teddy’s guests meander through like whirring particles. A perky assistant named Susan emits a practiced, thrilled noise when Seth identifies himself at the door:
Sporting of you to make it through this muck, she says, with warm insincerity, and waves him down a wide hall, past a vast room full of people and furniture, into a vast kitchen where uniformed waiters bus trays of champagne and Beluga caviar. Teddy Wade stands near a tiled kitchen counter roughly the length of Versailles.
Yo yo yo, he greets, holding a large slice of turkey to his world-famous mouth. He pops it in, chews, and moves towards a lanky woman who fusses over chafing dishes on a Mario Bellini table. The woman looks up from a congealing expanse of croustades aux crevettes, an expression of frazzled welcome passing briefly over her stunning features. Teddy Wade hugs her like a vase.
This is my wife Janice, says Teddy Wade. Janice Wade licks sauce from her finger. She punches Teddy Wade in the stomach.
Go ahead, he tells her, breathless, throwing out the arms of his aubergine silk jacket. Shoot your best shot. These abs are like tempered steel.
You are strong, man of steel, says Janice Wade in an awed robotic voice. They begin tickling and grabbing each other, limbs darting and flailing defensively. Teddy pretends to dig in his nose for a booger and wields it like wolfsbane. Janice straightens and coughs in a dignified manner. Welcome to our home, she says.
Seth wonders if their adorableness is something they work at in public, if it’s natural or an exaggerated image that a Hollywood person would recognize as flagrant show biz. They are so beautiful they could belong to another species.
Have something, Teddy tells him, marching out of the room behind a waiter. There’s three tons of food.
Janice Wade snatches a champagne glass from a passing tray and hands it to Seth, watching intently as he sips it, like a movie poisoner. She’s wearing an elongated black blazer striped in silver dots, matching flared crepe trousers, and a pair of orthopedic-looking white shoes, and she looks, Seth thinks, a little like Tuesday Weld, the same high glabrous forehead and flashing eyes and wide feline mouth, blonde beatnik hair flowing across her shoulders.
There’s food for 40 people, she says a little sadly. A miscalculation, like the weather. Are you hungry?
Well, Seth admits, no, to tell you the truth.
Neither is anyone else. But of course it’s early and they’re trapped here. You interviewed Teddy? Was he incredibly pompous?
Oh no, not at all.
Well, that’s a relief. We had a lot of whirling dervishes staying here last week. We’re only now getting back to normal. Incense and anything whirling give me headaches and the house was full of it.
The perfection of the room’s every detail and the perfection of Janice Wade belong to a level of endless wealth where life becomes punishing theater. Each awkward moment enlarges itself into existential monstrosity. And for this moment, it feels that the preceding high-spirited moments are about to crash down into queasy silence. Janice smiles, cryptically. She lifts lids from various chafing dishes and peers into them as if she expects to find her next line written in the food.
Come look at the house, she says at last, clattering a final lid. She leads him through a narrow hall at the north end of the kitchen, into a startling room containing two gigantic bamboo sofas, festooned with gigantic white pillows, a glass table mounted on a 100-pound chunk of malachite, wicker chairs in bentwood frames, putty-colored marble floor, and three altar-like teak panels, intricately carved, fretted, and perforated, inset with door-sized mirrors, running along the walls. On strips of sisal carpet more gigantic pillows are arranged in stiff symmetry, like seating for a Zen ceremony. A wall of this room is an immense glass sheet, offering a spattered black nonview of the mounting deluge outside.
All this is from Bali, Janice informs him, flipping a switch that lights up torrents of rain flooding the swimming pool. They pause uncomfortably for the appropriate long look. The ceiling is alang-alang, which is some type of reed. It’s a pavillion ceiling copied from a Balinese puppet theater and the way it joins the old roof of the original house is quite remarkable when you see it from outside. That’s a Gauguin, she adds unnecessarily, and in this case here is a Joseph Beuys … something or other, some scribbles of his, kind of pretty, don’t you think?
There is no way of telling there’s a party elsewhere in the house. The rooms are huge and go on forever, and have lots of smaller rooms clustered off them, rooms crammed with period chairs and settees and paintings and clocks and carpets and tapestries. The decor grows thicker and heavier as the rooms pass, Janice Wade pointing and naming things like a somnambulist, and it occurs to Seth that this walking tour may be Janice’s way of escaping the party, or even some form of habitual inventory in preparation for a divorce.
This is really an incredible house, Seth finally says, for lack of something else to say, as Janice shows him a perfect little screening room tucked away like a jewel box. In the screening room are a black and silver Warhol Marilyn, two Cindy Sherman photographs, and a small painting by Cy Twombly.
It’s what people do out here, Janice yawns. Fill houses. The more house you have, the more stuff you need to fill it. I wish you could see the garden. That’s where I reign supreme among my catalpas and so on. I know, let’s look at Teddy’s bugs.
Yes, right down here. She flicks a light in a long narrow room. Walls are covered by lacquered trays of butterflies under glass, and along the walls run numerous glass vitrines of insects mounted on pins. Janice turns suddenly animated.
Look at these grasshoppers, she invites, they love to fester in meadows. Teddy catches them on Long Island. This species vomits on its enemies. I wish we could all do that. You can’t find them out here. These yellow green ones live in marshes.
Teddy collects these himself? He doesn’t just buy them?
Oh no why would he he loves the thrill of the hunt. Which is why I tell him he can never be an authentic Buddhist. I read that certain Buddhists wear bells to warn the smallest ground-crawling creatures so they don’t step on a soul, even the worms. But can worms hear bells I wonder? There are so many things in nature I don’t understand. Teddy thinks people are like bugs. There are so many millions of different kinds but they’re really all just rooting around for food, killing and eating other bugs. I mean we’re more refined about it aren’t we. It would be interesting if we all looked as different from each other as these things do, according to what type of bastards we are. Teddy and I are like dung beetles rolling all these objects into our lair. Here’s a critter you don’t see every day.
God. What is that.
Death’s Head Cock-a-roach, Janice says excitedly, native only to Key West. Then we have desert roaches. Creeeeepy. Note the hairy femora. Teddy finds them in Texas. They live in the nests of wood rats. Aren’t these bizarre? Spotted water beetles? Such pests beetles but quite pretty. And this is the Hairy Bear Beetle, with this reddish brown hair, and this metal green head? What sort of deity would cook up something like that? Here’s a skunk beetle, this black one, I’ll bet you anything the soul of William Randolph Hearst migrated directly into something like this. Silver Twig Weevils, and these of course are moths. Moths are so extraordinary. I think they’re subtler and prettier than butterflies really you wouldn’t guess there were so many varieties. My god I’ve been keeping you from the party all this time.
No, this is fascinating. Thank you for showing me.
Janice urges him out of the room anyway, down through the endless house as if she has shown him something more intimate than insects. Seth finds her very odd.
Teddy never mentioned bugs in our interview, he says.
But you do like them, Janice queries nervously.
Oh, he says. What’s not to like?
Now they’re standing in the hall before the big open archway of the living room, about to go in. Seth is distracted by the appearance of a large, dressy object he recognizes, with horror, as Sheraton Pyle, a New York writer he was briefly friendly with eight or nine years earlier. Sheraton enters the hall like an idling bulldozer.
I knew I saw you come in, Sheraton gripes, wagging a fat reproachful finger, his manner obsequious and condescending at the same time. Sheraton is a massive black man whose girth, encircled in a light gray suit and black silk shirt, suggests a fortuitously even distribution of baby fat. His face is strangely genderless, and always makes Seth think of unbaptized baby souls trapped forever in Limbo. Sheraton’s eyes obtrude unnervingly from tight, narrow sockets. His incessant grin, with an indecent length of pink tongue wedged between sparkling teeth, conveys a coy malevolence. His face looks like something carved from Brazil wood to scare children.
Oh hiiiii, Sheraton, Seth dilates, willing a forced smile not to crumble, and attempts to air-kiss the vicinity of Sheraton’s cheek. Sheraton’s repousse middle region obstructs him, and before he can recoil, Seth finds his face being crushed against Sheraton’s soft, repulsive breast. Sheraton holds the embrace much longer than necessary, presumably to give Janice the impression that they are very close friends. She, however, has moved into the crowd.
What a small world, Seth hears for the second time that night.
Sheraton immediately begins digging around to discover what Seth is doing in Los Angeles, how Seth happens to know Teddy Wade, what kind of car Seth is driving, who Seth is sleeping with, where Seth is staying, and who Seth’s LA friends are: for this type of grilling, Sheraton assumes a visage of utter surprise and naivete, of real delight at seeing Seth, whom he hates, and who hates him. Seth resents Sheraton’s oh, the Marmont, I always love staying at the Marmont, it conjures a horrible picture of Sheraton checking into the hotel and asking for his usual room. Sheraton offers that he himself is staying with Babe Sklar in Malibu, Babe Sklar being Sheraton’s current meal ticket, a universally dreaded multimillionairess with significant Hollywood bloodlines and a fondness for leftist causes. Babe Sklar, Seth thinks, has sliced the balls off far better men than Sheraton Pyle with her breakfast butter knife, turned far better people into lapdogs and carriage blankets and little furry muffs with a wave of her magic checkbook. Thinking this, he feels slightly sorry for Sheraton.
He regrets this twinge of sympathy before he even knows why. It relaxes him enough to tell Sheraton what he’s actually doing in Los Angeles. A fatal misstep. The workings of Sheraton’s mind are sufficiently visible that Seth observes a sly pause in its gear-works as it absorbs a significant morsel of news. What possible value it could have for Sheraton, Seth can’t guess, but that it has some, he plainly sees.
Are you, urn, writing something about the trial? Sheraton’s casualness is distinctly false. But really, Seth thinks, what possible harm could there be in talking about it?
I don’t know, he says.
Sheraton makes a skeptical noise through his nostrils.
I really don’t know, Seth shrugs, I just like going to trials. He wonders how he’d reply if Sheraton suddenly said: When did you ever have the money to just go to one and not write anything. He remembers that Sheraton can never accept a straight answer, that Sheraton’s calculating brain always assumes some delicious secret lurking behind everything.
Again the pink tongue, the blazing teeth, the idiotic grin.
You and those trials, clucks Sheraton in a comic darky accent, as if Seth were a “character” defined by a handful of lovable foibles. Everything Sheraton says is a bid for some clammy, false intimacy. Is it hard to get in?
I have a press credential, says Seth, too quickly, forgetting for a pleasant moment that Sheraton Pyle has ranged all over the journalistic world in the years since their friendship, and would not be daunted or amazed by the words “press credential.”
It’s a very tiny courtroom, Seth fumbles. There’s a few seats for the public but they get grabbed up at 5:00 in the morning.
How did you get a credential? presses Sheraton. Something is blossoming in his brain, its first little buds popping free of their embryonic goo.
Seth explains the Marshall’s office and the morning lottery, feeling with every word that he’s relinquishing control of a mysterious, volatile substance. It’s uncanny how perilous casual talk becomes around people like Sheraton Pyle, who has some blunt, efficient use for everything, like a battlefield chef. They wander into the party, where Seth wriggles free, joining the fringes of a conversation Teddy Wade’s having with some actors from the theater group, who are in rehearsals for a play.
This is Mike, this is Cyrinda, this is David, Teddy says, this is Seth, a wonderful writer from New York, Seth maybe you’ve heard of Howl Theater I’m on their board frankly David if every movie company in town can do it there’s no reason you can’t do a sniping for this play all those hoardings and construction sites where stuff was burned in the riot and that huge corner on Beverly it’s always completely blitzed with concert posters maybe it’s technically illegal but when did you hear of any prosecutions for that kind of thing.
They fine you plenty, another actor says. They are all talking at once, like kids clamoring for the teacher’s attention.
I’m Imelda Marcos, a stout woman wearing too much eyeliner tells Seth, gobbling some vegetables from a plate she’s holding.
In the play, Imelda Marcos explains.
Great, Seth says. That’s great. He smiles. He hates theater plays. Imelda Marcos grabs a short goodlooking man who grins at Seth as he devours something that resembles veal or fish.
This is Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda says.
Sheraton hovers nearby, stuffing himself from a tall mess of salad, talking to two women who are talking about a German artist, Seth catches a bit of the dialogue and recognizes the story, an artist who sings Nazi songs in restaurants when he’s drunk. The women can’t seem to agree which of four or five well-known artists they’re talking about, and Sheraton speculates that perhaps all four or five have the same unfortunate tendency.
We might bring Life of Doris to New York in the spring, Ferdinand Marcos, whose real name is William, tells Seth.
William has something of Teddy’s mesmeric actor beauty, an aspect of soft clay molding itself into the shape of other people’s desire. He gnaws his food as if eating pussy in front of an audience. Imelda Marcos darts worshipful looks at Teddy while nodding and grinning at Seth, her face running through a morphology of craven expressions like an electronic billboard in Times Square.
That’s great, Seth replies, a little uncertain about how many people he’s talking to.
It’s really a great play, William says, as Sheraton, standing some feet behind him, catches Seth’s eye and winks familiarly.
What’s it about, Seth asks, vaguely agitated by Sheraton’s movements.
Teddy hasn’t told you? I’m surprised he talks it up to everybody. It’s a chamber piece about the last years in the life of Doris Duke. But actually there are flashbacks within the play, we have different actresses playing Young Doris, Middle Aged Doris, and Old Doris, Cyrinda there is Middle Aged Doris. It takes place in Hawaii where Old Doris adopts Chandi Heffner, who poses as a socialite but is actually a follower of some swami, and then Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos arrive. Imelda borrows five million dollars from Doris to pay Gerry Spense to defend her in court and there’s a lesbian cabal sort of thing between Chandi and Imelda.
I’m also Barbara Hutton, Imelda Marcos interjects. Doris’s chief social and love rival.
Look, says William, that old guy over there used to play tennis with Samuel Beckett. I’m Porfirio Rubirosa in some of the flashbacks.
Do you have to wear padding? Seth asks, but William isn’t listening. As he looks around the room he has the sensation that the air has been replaced by a denser, less easily breathed medium. That the space between people is turning gelatinous. That the people themselves are strangely out of scale with each other—some tiny and evanescent, others enormous, like elephants. Voices clot in this atmosphere, becoming a variegated drone.
Seth passes from conversation to conversation, plucking champagne flutes from passing trays and draining them with no attention to how many he’s had or what they’re doing to him. Wherever he goes, Sheraton angles himself into his sightlines. People are drinking a lot, which isn’t usual for this kind of party. The speed keeps him zipping along. At some point he traps himself in a cul-de-sac consisting of Sheraton, Babe Sklar, and Unguentina Carribou, the latter, weirdly enough, being the only other black person besides Sheraton whom Seth truly loathes. While it’s hardly implausible to find them together, finding them together here strikes Seth as a grotesque statistical unlikelihood. In different regions of the middle past, they both used him viciously. Unguentina Carribou married early into an incredibly prestigious white publishing family, securing for her slender, rage-inflected memoirs of an entirely invented Carribean girlhood the kind of inflated adulation Sheraton himself hopes to win for an ever-unfinished but often-announced first novel entitled Mammy. It is odd to see Sheraton flanked by the living embodiments of his ambition, especially when they’re physically so much tinier than he is.
Babe Sklar is like a miniature pony. She wears a look of permanent surprise achieved by too many face lifts. She never appears to speak, but rather to gasp in reaction to other people. She does speak, though, in a raspy voice that rustles with the secret life of money. She says things like Oh boy and What do you think? and Gosh, a perfected withholding acquired in the School of Warhol. She smiles at everything, as if beaming down from a planet of mildly drugged debutantes. Seth believes that if he suddenly confessed to serial murder, Babe Sklar would smile her toothy smile and say Gosh that’s interesting. Her presence is like a ninety pound tumor of gold boullion. In contrast, Unguentina Carribou has the kind of menacing changeability associated with African military dictators. She is a surpassingly ugly woman with lumpy features and a wardrobe of frilly faded dresses worn to evoke the gentility and dignified oppression of her island forebearers. Tonight she ressembles a faded cabinet photo, in a lace-collared sepia frock and a rope of seed pearls that look piqued at not being larger.
This whole Martinez business is so fascinating, Babe Sklar says brightly, plunging right in. Do you believe they were really sexually abused?
Unguentina Carribou rolls her huge eyes. It’s a case of two monsters, she declares, killing two other monsters. You can imagine what would happen if two black children from the South Bronx were on trial for the same thing. The cries for blood! The outrage!
South Central, chimes Sheraton, all soul-brotherly.
People seem reluctant to believe them, says Seth, simply because they’re rich. He aims this at Babe Sklar, as if they are both rich. He dimly senses that he really says it because they are both white. Babe Sklar, however, isn’t about to enlarge on the disadvantages of being rich or white.
One hears such odd things, she says.
Really odd things, Sheraton growls.
The whole Scientology angle, says Babe.
What is it about these sad unhappy white people, opines Ungentina, in a voice suitable for an off-off-Broadway stage, born with everything yet vulgar and resentful and finally murderous, cursed by their very blessings, I believe all their well-born luxury drives them to cannibalism, most particularly here in California. First the Manson family, now the Martinez family. Always seeming to involve a family, a twisted family of sad unhappy white people.
Actually they’re Cuban, says Seth. Probably sad unhappy neighbors of yours I should think.
Cuba is a far cry from Monserrat, Unguentina snaps imperiously. Her precise island of origin has changed several times over the years. Sheraton, who was born in New Jersey, moved his own birthplace to Barbados the year he selected Unguentina as a role model.
Well what Scientology angle are you talking about, Seth demands.
Supposedly there’s some involvement, Sheraton says vaguely. In certain aspects of the case.
Of course these sad white people are too rich to worry about the death penalty, Unguentina sighs with disgust. One doesn’t find in these prisons built by the white man yet peopled by the black man any rich white people on death row.
And they ain’t any rich black people to put on death row, says Sheraton blackly.
That’s so true, Babe whispers, nodding.
There’s always Michael Jackson, Seth suggests.
Why aren’t you people eating, Janice Wade wants to know.
I’m stuffed, Sheraton says truly, drumming his belly.
Oh Janice, Babe says. That Twombly.
I know, says Janice. Isn’t it?
This has been lovely, Janice, says Babe in a summarizing way.
Yes lovely, echoes Unguentina.
You’re not going? Please, Janice says, visibly alarmed, waving at the room, stay, it’s pouring outside, it’s early.
Well we would, says Babe.
I have an early flight, says Unguentina.
Sheraton stays. He has his own car. A while later Seth finds himself alone with Sheraton once again, in a study where a Magritte hangs over the fireplace.
Holy mackerel, Sheraton says in his faux darky voice, how much is that worth?
A million five, says Seth, who pretends to know about such things. What’s all this alleged inside poop about Scientology?
Well I didn’t say anything in front of Janice, says Sheraton, because I mean, you know, they’re in The Order.
Why do I keep hearing this? It’s like the Hollywood version of the blood libel. You can’t even find it in the phone book but supposedly everybody on earth is in The Order. Juliette Lewis, Bob Barker, Tova Borgnine—
Supposedly, says Sheraton, that judge in the Martinez case is.
Huh. Seth has to admit, though only to himself, that this really is an intriguing idea. I have a hard time picturing Rupert Tietelbaum, he says, in some Druid costume prancing around a Satanic pentangle.
Why not, he wears those robes in court all the time, supposedly they—
What exactly do they do in this Order, has anybody ever gone into that? I am really curious, Sheraton, do they eat babies? Blow up nuclear plants? Litter indiscriminately?
I think it’s more economic, Sheraton says, less sure of himself. Like the Masons or the Knights Templar or something. They control certain businesses. Video porn and I don’t know what all. An economic conspiracy. See, what Babe heard, was that the Martinez father was in The Order too.
I can’t avoid the feeling, Seth says, that this is horse shit.
Sheraton gazes covetously at the Magritte, which depicts a shotgun with a bleeding foot growing out of its butt.
Heather Locklear, he darkly murmurs. I’ve heard Heather Locklear, too.
Seth wonders as he leaves Teddy Wade’s house if he is one of the faceless ones, a guest acquired for such affairs because he is available and temporary and easily pleased, invited as insurance, in his case, against an unlikely negative slant in his Conde Nast interview. Or if he has disappointed some pale hope they entertained after skimming his book, that he would turn out to be their sort of person. True, the Wades were nice to him, but Teddy’s attention all evening was perfunctory, almost distracted. Babe Sklar is rich beyond avarice, Sheraton Pyle an amusing sycophant, Unguentina Carribou a classy gargoyle—and the others are, in various layers, the Wades’s friends, associates, employees. But what, who is he? In their world, practically nothing, a stray mote from the middle rungs of the New York media ladder. Insignificant even at a party where nobody really important showed up.
Sprinting through the rain again, he feels a surge of drunken spite, a strangely consoling anger at his puniness in the place where he finds himself. Although his coordination is absurdly shot, the car keys slipping through his fingers as he squints in search of the door lock, the twisted quality of this anger is apparent to him, like the rage he felt against Mark whenever his, Seth’s, bizarre behavior had driven Mark further away from him. You need to decide what you’re really guilty of, if anything, the therapist said. He would try, then, conceiving of his self-contempt as a baroque penitentiary that someone truly worthy of its prisoner would have the wit and strength to storm. I think you’re pooling all your little problems together to make one enormous problem too big to deal with. He squats beside the Mazda’s front wheel, groping the wet gravel of the driveway. Try to subtract your emotions from what’s actually happened. Now, that would be lovely: losing his keys, having to phone a cab or beg a ride from somebody, making nice with the dregs of the party while his clothes drip all over the sisal carpets. Even that little bit of distress would show everyone how drunk he was. Ask yourself what it is that’s making you think this way.
He finds the keys under the car, the yellow plastic Hertz tag winking in watery blackness like a sentient evil totem, wrestles the door open while across the drive through a drizzle of willow boughs someone steps into the wan entry light from inside the house. Vague figures in the rain, voices splashing across the lawn, the wind tossing tree branches back and forth in the cool clean air. Headlights shatter across the glassy ripples skudding down his rear window as his tires crunch past the gate, way down at the bottom of the drive. It could be Sheraton Pyle’s car, he thinks, Sheraton Pyle on his way to Malibu, or, who knows, maybe Sheraton Pyle thinks it’s cute to trail him, with the storm beating up again, lashing the frantic wipers, the slick black road dissolving between strokes.
He believes he knows the way back to a main road. He instructs himself to drive with extra caution, moderato cantabile, and is slow to notice that unless he shuts one eye the road splits into two ectoplasmic ribbons, with a third more solid one running below them, maybe it’s stupid to poke the ejected cassette into the tape player but he thinks it’ll perk him up, now with one eye closed he seems to be driving okay, it’s weird how sober he feels with one eye squeezed tight and how trashed he is when he opens it. The lights behind him brighten, glare on the rearview mirror, and the pounding rap from the speakers with its lumbering refrain of niggah niggah creates the impression that the car right behind him probably is Sheraton Pyle’s car, that Sheraton is tonight’s wicked messenger, and it feels like the fumes of intoxication are burning off in the night air, leaving him lucid and powerful, pressing his shoe on the gas to soar off away from his pursuer, a little scarily because he knows, he can feel straight through the car’s purring metal intestines that the brakes won’t catch right on the inundated road, that hard stop will send it flying sideways, but he’s not afraid, the road being wide and untraveled, he simply wants to scare Sheraton motherfucking Pyle, throw a little terror into that miserable excuse for a life, show him how easily Seth takes chances, how at home Seth is on Los Angeles streets, in Los Angeles weather, the headlights surge up in the rainslick rear window, ebb as he picks up speed, sneak up again, Seth imagines the driver nerving himself repeatedly against all caution, one mile, another mile, another mile of slithery blacktop, imagines him shitting razor blades as the needle climbs to seventy then eighty and the tires toss up scalloped troughs of water, Seth raps along with the music now, tries to, scrambling the words, he feels cool and stupid at the same time, abruptly eases up on the accelerator because the road in the mirror now is empty and black with steam or fog swirling off it, and to his sodden brain the suddenly vacant reflecting oblong is a mystery, a trick of vision, like the sudden jerking movement in his windshield, the running body lit up in a flash by his headlights that smashes the grille of his car with a hideous thud as loud and unexpected as a sonic boom, a noise with the snapping and crunching of bones in it.
Gary Indiana’s Resentment: A Comedy, will be published in July by Doubleday.
Where on the spectrum of loyalty and betrayal does song begin? And where does it end? I think each writer has to decide this over and over.