Before too many of my aspirations have taken form as deeds (through the process known as “lies”) I need to speak of my childhood humiliations.
A friend of mine wrote A History of My Loves. Just so, I give you now A History of My Humiliations. The chapter titles go something like this:
Erections Rejected and Erections Regretted
High School: My “Hindoo” Phase
Mom & Mona: Even the Alphabet Is Out To Get Me, a Story of Sexting Gone Wrong
Foreign Chicks Dig Me: My Romances with Refugees
I Didn’t Know Someone Was Watching
The Captain’s Platter: a Venereal Smorgasbord
I’m Not a Girl: My Quest to Achieve Puberty
Never mind. My wife, who always looks over my shoulder as I write, tells me to stop, I’m being stupid. My wife and I have a system. In it, I’m little more than a lottery machine, blowing air upon which spheres toss to and fro, like a hive of dull-witted bees. My wife’s the one in high heels and trim skirt who plucks the balls off their coasting currents and reads them to the camera. She’s the one who propels those chance-tossed orbs off the radio towers, those colossal tombs of an ancient race of… I’m told again: stop, I’m embarrassing myself. The only reason I got even this far is that—ah, she won’t let me say.
In any event, my wife has saved me, saved me from humiliation, and so the history of my humiliations ends at my marriage. Change is always agonizing, but this one was for the best. Humility is a virtue, but humiliation breeds an arrogance, the sort of arrogance that believes things like revenge are possible.
Write about Drunken Buddhism, my wife tells me. Well, I grew up in the unfortunate circumstances where Chogyam Trungpa was frequently mentioned, and though I never bothered to look into it, I believe Drunken Buddhism is essentially a program of ego-dissolution through humiliation at the hands of your Master.
“Ego Dissolution?” my wife asks, a tone of accusation: she knows I don’t know what I’m talking about. Identity’s not my strong point: if there’s one remarkable thing about me, it’s that I have no identity. I don’t even have any psychology. The thing called “I” is just a circuit in an alarm that rings as if a house in the neighborhood’s on fire—like a star in the suburban dark. But what does humiliation do to an ego? It reminds it. Humiliation is like an old love letter, a message in a bottle, a childhood pebble thrown at a window. Ah, that was the old internet: a town’s windows. We’d throw pebbles late at night instead of texting, we’d ring doorbells, drive cars through the old internet… those were the days…
I think she’s fallen asleep. That explains the last paragraph. Unless she’s just pretending. But what I’m saying is that true humiliation is only possible in childhood, like true love. In old age, we’re left only with reminders.
So what happened to me, that I can no longer feel humiliation? That I no longer seek revenge on my old bullies in their burning houses? I walk around the suburbs with a sunburn, eating atomic wings, and feel nothing but normal. I walk in the same air as everyone else, even if I’m “already” “fucked up,” even if I walk in my boxers, slippers, robe, at like, 3 p.m. or whatever. I’m immune to humiliation, whereas remember my mortification when I arrived at my morning homeroom still wearing my pajamas? The teacher, Mrs. Rose, all 4’10″ of her, tried her best. She told the class, “You don’t even know that’s a jumpsuit, and they’re very popular with the high-school kids.” Some girl piped up: “a jumpsuit… with feet?” and Richie Carnes, who taught me to crack my knuckles, told her to shut up.
Richie was the only guy who stuck up for me. He was poor, and he was the toughest kid in the school, and everyone assumed he’d end up in jail. If he ever felt humiliated, he never blushed. But I was transparent when I felt humiliated. Everyone could tell I was holding back tears as I said, “I don’t care.” My guardian angel, the traitor, would hover behind my back and mime my tears, mime my beating heart.
You know how it is, how it was—this, that—but what happened between then and now? What’s the real change? My face has assumed many expressions since that day in the third grade. My cheeks have been stretched from wincing as I slug Wild Turkey out the bottle. My lips have been contorted by the mezcal, and my whole face exposed as I cough up vodka that went down the wrong pipe. Alcohol finished my face so it’s hardened. I switch between ridiculous death masks and feel death is the laugh of the wood.
From the realm of death, the only way one can speak is to write. My flat wooden tongue moves only in the wind. I can write only, and only the dead can write. And I rely on alcohol, which can move me back and forth from the living world to the dead world, and bring back the writing from where writing is possible.
Ah but then I’m alive again, a little kid again. I’m not always masked, I have to remind myself. My joy is my ability to put on masks, to blink my eyes and go from life to death, drunk to sober, writer to reader, so I return to the living, burping, making excuses for why I don’t go past heavy petting, or being absolutely straight up about it—depends on the situation—and back in life I carry the repose of the words I’ve written, and faced with humiliation I care only about how to write it.
Eric Gelsinger is part of the old House Press in Buffalo, NY. His work can be found in Fence, LUNGFULL!, Ecopoetics, and Flim Forum. During the last seven years he has worked for the United Nations, and as an Equity Trader for D. E. Shaw. His interests include the economy of literature, Latin American poetry and prose, and comedy. He lives in Brooklyn.