Monday, September 12, 2016

Cages, binaries, toxic masculinity

Last month I found a cardboard box full of old books down by the loading dock at work, bound for the dumpster. Most were eroded hardcover pictorials about furniture and fashion circa 1970; one was a novel. That novel was one Cages (1971) by one Paul Covert. I'd never heard of the book nor its author.

Judging from the front cover, which does its damnedest to convey a youth culture/Beat vibe, and the back cover, whose copy does describes the teenage protagonist's "world of psuedo-Hemingway fantasies and ingenuous adolescent sex," and speciously characterizes the young Covert as a kind of postwar Thoreau/Papa successor, Cages sure looks like a mediocre freshman novel whose publishers tried way too hard to pimp. The novel's sink into obscurity would appear to verify the impression: Cages has only one review on Goodreads and none on Amazon, Paul Covert appears to have vanished from literary history, and a search for "liveright new writers" on Google Books mostly yields publishing catalogues from 1970–1974.

In spite of this, I decided to snag Cages and give it a read anyway. For obvious reasons, I can't help sympathizing with a forgotten novelist who once stepped up to the plate and swung the bat, even if it never landed him in the big leagues. Selfishly, and probably self-delusionally, I entertain the conceit that by reading a forty-five-year-old novel I haphazardly found in the dustbin, I create a statistical precedent for someone doing the same with a corroded copy of The Zeroes they find in a recycling bin circa 2050.

I was pleased and surprised when Cages turned out to be much more interesting than its packaging would have me believe. Despite Liveright's attempts to sell it through a fabricated tie to Hemingway, Cages is much more like Catcher in the Rye than The Sun Also Rises, and bears thematic and stylistic similarities to middle school reading list mainstays A Separate Peace and The Pigman. Actually, I'd be very tempted to label Cages a young adult book, were it not for all the misogyny, profanity, homoeroticism, homophobia, teenage sex and alleged rape, liberal use of the word "fag," and the unresolved and unanswerable questions the reader is left with after reaching the end.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

(swamps &)soma, pt. 2

Last week I was in Jersey on the pretense of running an errand, but hell—I really just wanted an excuse to visit the Garden State. It's a fine place to sojourn, especially when it's BALLS HOT in Philadelphia and your bedroom isn't air conditioned.

I stopped by Boonton (pronounced boo'n; the "nto" is treated as a glottal stop) to visit the tract of marshland in Tourne Park (which I believe we've looked at before).

via the crappy camera on my crappy phone
This must have been the first time I've made the trek in August; I've never seen the vegetation so dense before, the annual weeds and herbaceous perennials having had all spring and summer to grow and bloom in the exceedingly nutrient-rich of the marsh soil. I was only able to make inroads of about twenty feet from the edge of the forest before calling it quits, and it took several minutes and much more effort than I expected. It also required closed-toe shoes, which I wasn't wearing, and so all afternoon I was pulling fine spines out of my feet and ankles, left by some mean gang of thorny weeds I'm unable to identify. (Whatever they are, I'm still happier running afoul of them than of their West Indian friends.) And many of the non-biting weeds were five or six feet tall, and putting out flowers up and down their stems. You know who likes flowers? Honeybees. Whole humming congregations of them, orbiting every stalk. I'm that guy who will bust your balls for blanching and quailing just because a solitary bee happened to land on your pantleg (quelle horreur!), but there was such a profusion of stingers to make me a bit nervous—enough that while making my way back I warily circumvented a buzzing tangle of purple loosestrife with a route through the water and mud, nearly losing both my shoes and ensuring that for the rest of the afternoon my extremities would smell as those of my mucksavage forebears did in days long past.

On the plus side, my beloved odonata made an admirable showing, and I spotted a species of damselfly I'd never seen before: the fragile forktail. It was well worth the mosquito bites.

After returning to Philadelphia that evening, I met up with my friend/coworker Jess at Ray's Happy Birthday Bar.