Monday, February 27, 2012

An excerpt from "The Amanuensis," by Mark Van de Walle

("Poolside at the Beat Hotel" by Michael Childers
from The Paris Review.)

Here is an excerpt from Mark Van de Walle's memoir, "The Amanuensis," which appeared online at The Paris Review. The story continues in "The Offer" and concludes with "The Departure." Van de Walle was researching a cultural history of trailer parks in America and was in Rancho Mirage, California, when he became acquainted with the caretaker of The Beat Hotel -- not the original Beat haunt in Paris at 9 Rue Git-le-Coeur but one man's attempted re-creation in a desert motel. Magnets for Misery, Van de Walle's cultural history of trailer parks in America, was published in 2004.

... But Steve wasn’t famous, exactly. Instead, he lived in a state that was stranger and less easy to define than fame. He was the center of an elaborate network of near-mystical coincidence whose tendrils apparently ran everywhere, touching all aspects of his life, from the most prosaic to the most rarefied. Often, these two converged, as they did with the green Converse high-tops.

These were the shoes Steve was wearing when he left his loft in SoHo in a daze shortly after being fired from his job writing porn novels, which he’d been churning out at a rate of 175 pages a week for about two years. William Burroughs was wearing the very same green Converse high-tops that afternoon in 1974, and this was enough to get him to slow down and make eye contact, and then conversation, with Steve. If they hadn’t been wearing identical shoes, the two writers might not have stopped on the street in front of the Atomic Machine Parts Factory, and Burroughs might never have asked Steve to help him with Cities of the Red Night, the book he was having such trouble with.

And who knows? Maybe, without Steve, Burroughs’s writers block might have become permanent and he wouldn’t have become the High Priest of Outlaw Writers. This kind of thing happened to Steve all the time: he seemed always to arrive in the right place at exactly the right time. He made it possible for things to happen. Steve was the man behind the scenes, invisible but essential.

... Steve was relentless in his enthusiasms; he was also always seconds away from sliding into hysteria. The pigeons made him slide. “It’s killing me to constantly get dragged down by this mundane-detail shit. Killing me!”

It was funny to hear Steve complain about how details were killing him, since he had a greater capacity for worrying about details than anyone I’d ever met. Take, for example, the interior paint in the hotel: it was beige. It was not, however, just any beige; it was a custom beige. And it wasn’t an ordinary custom beige (insofar as such a thing is possible); this shade of beige could only be properly mixed, Steve swore, by one clerk at the Lowe’s Home Improvement Megacenter in Rancho Mirage.

This clerk worked only part-time, preferring to devote himself to the various duties accruing to the title of Mr. Leather Palm Springs, which he’d held for two years. Periodically, the clerk would intimate that he might leave Lowe’s altogether and go full-time on the chaps-and-harness circuit. This sent Steve into paroxysms of fear. Every scratch or scuff was a tragedy, every trip to the hardware store attended by a junkie’s anxiety — Will the Man be there? Will he have the Good Stuff?

Still, my girlfriend swore that the extremely particular beige Steve and Mr. Leather developed together really was the perfect beige, and that it was absolutely worth all the trouble. Everything at the new Beat Hotel was like that: austere to the point of near invisibility and crazily fussy. ...

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