Monday, November 10, 2008

A Time Warp and a Literary Bastard Child

I spent an hour in a time warp, in 1990 or '91. At least, I wanted to believe I did.

Here's what happened.

It was a Saturday evening, and I was to give a reading at La Mama La Galleria, the art gallery annex of La Mama theater. I was splitting a bill with my old friend Holly Anderson. We had agreed that I'd open the reading, then Holly would read, and finally we'd finish with a collaborative piece we'd written for the occasion. We agreed to meet at the gallery at 7:15 for a sound check. The reading was to begin at 8.

I had taken a nap that afternoon, and when I got up the clock by my bed said 6:00. I rushed to pull myself together and head over to the East Village from Brooklyn. As I waited for the train, I checked my watch several times. I seemed to be doing all right, as long as a train came soon. But it took a while for a train to come. I checked my watch several more times on the train. I was still doing fine. I got off the train at Broadway-Lafayette and headed toward the gallery, which was on East 2nd Street. Just before I got to the door I checked my watch. It was exactly 7:15.

I entered the gallery and what I saw shocked me. Holly was reading, and the audience was all seated, watching her read.

What was going on? Had I gotten the time wrong? Was the reading supposed to have started at 7?

The gallery's curator, the lovable Lawry Smith, greeted me. "What happened?" he asked. "We were so worried about you."

I was completely confused. I looked at my watch. It was 8:15.

The only explanation was that I had been lost in a one-hour time warp just before I entered the gallery. I found this both scary and exciting. I'm an atheist, but I'm not a total rationalist. The surrealist in me is fascinated by the mysterious.

After Holly finished reading there was an intermission. Everybody I knew at the reading told me how worried they were, since I'm always punctual.

When it came time for my portion of the program I apologized to the audience for my tardiness and explained that I had been stuck in a time warp. People laughed, as if I were joking.

I went out for drinks afterwards with some friends and told them how thrilled I was to have been caught in a time warp. They all said there had to be a rational explanation.

There was, unfortunately. When I got home I looked at the alarm clock by my bed. The time was one hour earlier than the time on my watch. So what happened? The best I could come up with was that during my nap the clock had stopped for exactly an hour. But how likely is that?

And what about my watch? I ultimately figured it this way: I had based my notion of the time on what the bedside clock said. Every time I looked at my watch I was really only paying attention to the minute hand, not realizing that it was really an hour later.

Whatever the explanation, it appeared that I hadn't been in a time warp after all. Still, I was glad for the excitement of that brief illusion.

* * *

The piece that Holly and I wrote for that occasion has finally been published these many years later. About a year ago, as I was going through old documents on my computer, I rediscovered "Behold These Arms" Holly and I both had only the vaguest memory of it, and I remembered it as pretty much a failure: second-rate (or worse) Beckett. But reading it again I thought, this ain't so bad after all, and Holly felt the same way. We decided that we might even try to get it published, but we couldn't figure out where to send it. Then, a couple of months ago I discovered an online journal called AdmitTwo, which only publishes collaborative literature. Eureka! I thought, I've found the place to send our little freak.

Here's how the piece came about. I used to do readings and performances on a pretty regular basis at La Mama La Galleria, and I had invited Holly to share a bill with me. We had known each other for at least eight years and admired each other's work, so I proposed that we do a piece together for the event. I thought it should be something the two of us could read together, but not a dialogue. I think I came up with the basic concept: a monologue in the voice of a hermaphrodite (or person of indeterminate gender); the two of us would trade off lines, and read some in unison.

I think we wrote it at Holly's apartment in Queens. If I remember correctly, I took the reins of the computer and wrote as we brainstormed. Though who did what is somewhat blurry, in general Holly supplied more of the details and contours of the narrative and I was more responsible for the actual phrasing and transitions. I know for sure that the earrings and the Wheatmeal Digestives were her idea (I had never heard of Wheatmeal Digestives before or, I think, since). We ended up with a strange character that was decidedly Beckettian.

You'll have to be the judge of how it all comes off.

Read it here, in Issue 26 of AdmitTwo. The journal is in PDF format, so you can either read it with Adobe Acrobat or print it out. We're on pages 37-38.


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