By H. Edward Fool
For a while there Vincent’s mother was involved in real estate--or something similar enough to distinguish it
from jobs which didn’t require perpetual chirpiness--and too many of her clients found oblique, two-birds-one-
stone, ways to thank her for her good work. “How would you like this old chair, Evelyn? I’m sure there must be
good solid, hand-carved walnut concealed under all those layers of chipped and blistering old paint!” “I
thought I noticed you admiring the partially dismantled pump organ that we’ve abandoned, a heap of warped
and worm-eaten wood, in our basement…” By this, (natural) redistribution of the known world’s most
cherished possessions—when Vincent was fourteen perhaps—his mother came home one day with an old
heavy (and by that I mean it had sharp edges too) cast iron Remington typewriter. Just as a side note: the
good folks at Remington made guns as well as typewriters and you can finish the joke to your liking.
Evelyn really didn’t know why she accepted the thing, but there it was. So, she said to her son, “If you can get
it out of the trunk of the car, it’s yours.” Get it out of the trunk? Make way, woman! The boy’d been reading
Evergreen Review…and Ramparts… and the Village Voice, and… Playboy whenever he could get his hands
on it/keep his hands off it…(not to mention Jaguar and Swank) for more than two whole years. He also
listened to jazz. Naturally then, Providence was at his side urging him to hurry up ‘n’ get his career as a writer
under way. There was no stick involved. It was all carrot as far as he could see, and carrots are supposedly
good for the eyes. Since his involvement with some of the magazines mentioned above was making his cross-
eyed, it would be a clever way to re-establish ocular equilibrium.
In his defense—before we go too far--let me say that Vincent was not the first human being to confuse his own
tiny-little (ridiculous, goddamned) day-dream with Destiny.
HOWever, at 14, Vincent knew what it was like to be ugly; he knew what it was like to have ravaged skin; what
it was like to be shy. I mean, (let’s face it) at 14 he already knew what it was like to be thought stupid. He knew
what it was like to be laughed at. Thanks to that unkindly mix, he also knew what it was like to be inward and
awkward…and I can’t think of another one…wayward maybe, but he wasn’t. If anything he was homeward and
practically homebound, though not necessarily homely. Admittedly, he was, in a way (but in his own unique
way), a weird little guy.
It hardly matters, what matters is that Vincent was convinced that being awkward and inward was foundation
enough upon which to build his career as a writer. But, ducks in a row, he had him none. Not one. Certainly
self-alienation looked like and quacked like and associated a little too freely with the boy, but, believe me, if
there was any alienation going on, it came from without. That’s not to say that Vincent longed to be an active,
contributing member of what ever the hell it was that was going on out there beyond his hollow-core bedroom
door, he didn’t. And it’s not to say he would welcome it if it showed up, or even recognize it, if it never did. At
that age who would? Vincent was content to be alone—if there’s any crime in that toss it in the wash with his
gym socks. Let’s just say, whether driven by self-alienated or the shunning of his peers, Vincent escaped
school each afternoon fleet-foot, drenched in shame.
In the solitude of his room Vincent read, and thought, and wrote; and all without even the slightest hint of oft
highly-touted good old red-blooded American youthful defiance. Slamming things around just prior to making
a dramatic departure while scream-chanting, ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” was a dance he was
incapable of learning. More of a traditionalist, Vincent was the stare-at-your-mashed-potatoes-and-say-
nothing-for-hours (but say it sullenly) sort. That’s my way of saying he was meek. Later in life he would
frequent no whores and bear no tattoos. Still later, smoke no cigars and buy no red convertibles.
But in those days, while hammering out words (because back then you really did have to hammer out the
words…) Vincent listened to Charles Aznavour. Though he did not understand a single word warbled by the
great French crooner, he was convinced Monsieur Aznavour would understand the very inner-most workings
of his (skinny, reclusive, pimple-faced) being. So, he wrote and wept along, or wrote and laughed along wryly
(as was, assumedly, appropriate). Quietly he wrote. Like a little mouse he wrote. Clip-clip-clip. Clip clip clip
clip…on into the night.
He wrote steadily; he wrote tenaciously…doggedly too. (He still has calluses on the tips of his old yellow
fingers from pounding on those old metal keys.) He certainly produced enough stuff; that’s what I’m getting at.
It could have been either Bravery or Stupidity that drove him on; they look so much alike at times. The click-
clack of the Remington was ever present in that little wood framed house, with a brave young lad at the keys.
Picture that for a moment. (Toss a little drifting fog in there while you’re at it, and a barking dog in the
Here is Vincent’s thinking in its entirety: he wrote, therefore, by definition, he was a writer. The idea was that
all this practice must be leading somewhere. That’s where he found the Courage/Foolishness to continue
typing away. Adding to his conviction was the fact that the very same model Remington typewriter could be
seen, prominently displayed, in an old a photograph of Nelson Algren, which he discovered in one of his
magazines. How could a more solidly convincing argument be forged?
Convinced early on, angels, in empire-waist gowns, hovered ever-over his shoulder (a little bit off to the left it
seemed), almost from the outset. They applauded (daintily) as each good word emerged, pounded letter by
fibrous letter into surface of the cheapest paper available. Press on, Vincent, press on! It would be cold of me
to say here that the kid really had nothing better to do anyway. But, that’s the nicest way of putting it.
I think the Grimms could have made good use of young Vincent. At 14 he was already stuck between Once
upon and forever after. He hung his hat, poor lamb, on the solid somewhat unreliable hook of fairy-tale
Quick, add this up and see what you get.
Vincent, alone in his room; PLUS the goddamned endless rhythmic clitter-clatter of the old Remington; PLUS
the mountains of paper waste that clatter produced.
Now subtract the niggling but nagging fact that not one page of the…stuff…he was grinding out ever left that
tiny room…an’ see what you come up with. When I add it up, no matter how many times I re-work it, even at
this kindly distance, I get: nothing really much of which to speak. For the sake of this estimate, multiply that
Vincent dreamed of (yearned for) a small, but dedicated readership. And, well yes, he also wanted, quite
naturally I would think, for writers (you know, real writers, writers whose work he admired) to seek him out, not
for friendship (no, no, no, no, no), but maybe just to pull him aside by the sleeve and tell him confidentially
how much they enjoyed his work. “Vincent,” some heavy-browed, troll-like guy with a two-tone goatee would
gush, “I devour everything with your name on it.” A pale little woman in a housedress wearing truly ugly pink
rhinestone encrusted glasses would whisper in a nasal voice, “You know, Vincent-dear, I’ve never said this to
anyone before, but, honestly… (here she lays a gloved hand upon his wrist)…I wish I’d’ve written that.” A
lovely young college girl, all freshly scrubbed and dressed for Spring, a student in Journalism and not quite
yet tempered by the ever-present, ever-insistent, surging male juggernaut of pawing, pleading (and some
might say slimy) persuasion, would coyly admit with Southern simplicity, “I must confess that I am SO inspired
by the way you string your words together. How-ever do you come up with such cleverness? ” In response of
course, quite naturally I would think, Vincent could only blush. (It just makes him all the more endearing.)
So, OK, that’s nailed down pretty tightly. The best thing now would be for us all to admit that in the early
stages of the infection (typically) the phrase ‘pumping out piles of purely pretentious crap’ is commonly (and
appropriately) applied to the shameless output of most burgeoning young hacks. And, (I’m guessing here)
Vincent knew as much.
But that didn’t stop him.
At this stage of the neurosis, deep within, Vincent glowed with the fiery certitude that every word he wrote was
precious, and it would be both selfish and wrong (in equal parts I imagine) to deprive Posterity enduring
insight into his every waking thought. Little did he know that by the year two thousand entire generations
would be screaming, by the minute, for that kind of attention and dismantling that enough monkeys and
typewriters theory with every keystroke.
But, let me add quickly, Vincent never removed his fingers from the keys without reality flooding in through the
breach that act created. By that I mean: remembering almost instantly that he was stupid and ugly and badly
dressed. Oh, and that every giggle, every derisive snort, behind his back, was aimed at him. (I’m glad I caught
that one before it hit the floor.)
Here’s a mystery. Somehow, subsurface, the foul sacrilege of editing began to take on a seductive new, even
heroic, form. For no reason that I can determine—and I’ve given the matter some thought--Vincent suddenly
took to the vicious noble craft. Year two at the alphabet piano found Vincent passionately committed to slash
and burn editing; and this in an age when to change then to than, you had to re-type the entire goddamned
page, and sometimes (by what mystery we do not know) the next page as well. Somehow he’d developed a
taste for heartless self-editing. The angels of inspiration wept of course. Behind his back they wept. They
tugged on his ears and pleaded, but to no avail.
Now, nothing was good enough. No single word was the correct word, no coupling of words strong enough, no
phrase carried its full weight, no sentence sang as it should; no paragraph sunk hooks deeply enough into the
reader’s intellect to snag them and drag them fully-engaged to drown in the magnificent (bubbling? roiling) vat
of whatever it was that Vincent was brewing. Every word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, page, (litany, litany,
litany)… chapter was worrisome until it was altered; cut, cropped, throw out entirely or re-written in every
available combination known to man. Yes, this, dear Vincent, is how one attains martyrdom. Prancing around
through piles of floor-bound, flightless, pages while laughing demonically isn’t a pretty picture however, even
if, for familial reasons, I’ve eliminated any mention of the drool. It doesn’t sound entirely healthy either, but,
there you have it. Yes, some of that went on. It was like something out of Cirque du Soleil, thirty or forty years
before such behavior became an acceptable way to make a living. (Shouldn’t this kid be wearing some kind of
Of course, one might reasonably ask—So what? (Several…may have asked already.)
It culminated one (rainy, sunny, foggy, snowy, dreary) afternoon, when Vincent rose up from his desk and
shuffling through the mounds of talus at his feet, like a Mafia don laying the foundation for his later insanity
plea, (breathe here), threw himself backward upon his bed, as if to focus not on the peach-colored ceiling
above him, but far far beyond that, upon whatever god or gods there may be up there looking down upon our
foolishness, clenched his bony little fists and declared challengingly, “Give me three words and I’ll re-arrange
them ‘til the end of time.” Robert Burns. Perhaps this was oversimplification on his part, perhaps not. (…on his
part though, perhaps not…on his part, though, perhaps not…perhaps, though, not…perhaps not
though…however, perhaps not…) We just know two things; it had nothing to do with zen and I forget the other
What an embarrassment. Do the words, unhinged, and deranged, mean pretty much the same thing to you?
Apparently, they meant nothing at all to young Vincent.
Of course, one might retort, “Just because he’s crazy doesn’t mean he’s any good.” And I couldn’t agree with
you more. But, nothing is clear at this point. He just may be a lousy writer.
So, with that as a backdrop, here’s a tale I think you’ll laugh at knowingly. (My god it took some time getting
here didn’t it?) The historical significance of what is about to be revealed can not, I think, be understated.
One particular day, inspired suddenly by who knows what (though it could have been something else entirely),
Vincent took a stack of scrupulously edited stuff…each page typed, single-spaced, edge to edge, top to
bottom, without relief… about eight or nine inches thick, and placed it in an old cardboard box and hauled it
downstairs and placed it in the trunk of his parents’ second car (an old green Dodge with iffy shocks). Without
so much as a hearty goodbye, or a fond farewell, or even a mumbled indecipherable word of discontented
departure, he set out for a small college town, 30 miles away, where the offices of the Briarwood Quarterly
could be found (nestled in amongst some large dignified old trees). Once there, he crossed a driveway
lugging his heavy, sagging, cardboard box, entered the old massive brownstone building, walked down a long
(echoing) hallway until he stood before a door marked, Molly Toothsome, editor. He knocked, and when a
female voice within shouted (somewhat distractedly), “Min.”, he entered.
He dropped his heavy box of stuff on the desk of Molly Toothsome, editor, turned red (he not she), started to
speak but didn’t, paused, made an awkward silent gesture which no one, even Dumas, could interpret, turned
and walked out.
Well, there was a bit more to it than that. He spoke. “I, uh…” was what he had said. And while standing there,
with her eyes fixed upon him, he feverishly worked his way through the almost endless possibilities that might
follow such an opening shot, and could settle on nothing particular. That was when he made the gesture
which would have befuddled Dumas. THEN he turned red, THEN, he turned and walked out.
As he got back into his car he was thinking, “Well, that was kind of weird.” And all the way home the phrase, “I
should have said something.” and the question, “Why didn’t I say something?” continually replaced each other
in his mind.
His dreams were crushed. He knew that much. The cover of the next issue of the BRIARWOOD QUARTERLY,
Vol. 46 No. 3, would not tout: THE WORK OF NEWLY UNDISCOVERED WRITER: JOHN MALPUS. Of that he
In those days he wrote under the name John Malpus. Who can explain why a kid who slipped unnoticed
through life (and wished to) would want a secondary identity? “Goddamn name even sounds like a
goddamned writer.” He imagined Norman Mailer saying that. It was always Norman Mailer and he was always
smoking a pipe. (There’s entertainment in that for those of us who know anything at all about Mailer. And
more for those who know anything about Mailer and me.)
Vincent’s fear now was that something would be said in Vol. 46 No. 3. He feared that, in an editorial, Molly
Toothsome would hold him up to other self-deceived writers-hopeful as an example of how NOT to conduct
yourself. He knew that if the phrase unfixed in our world, was to be used in such a cruel editorial, it would not
be used in the positive sense. It never occurred to the lad that the situation might be hilarious to someone
(angels, ancestors, Molly Toothsome, Norman Mailer, and everybody else at Briarwood Quarterly). That’s just
how self-centered he was at the time.
He’d had a plan going in. He had, for example, wanted to sigh convincingly and say, “It’s endless.” His dream
was that she would then respond kindly, saying, “I understand.” He wanted to offer both palms in a kind of
righteous resignation. He wanted to roll his eyes heavenward and look the weary part of a young man already
overwhelmed by the crushing demands of his craft. His plan was to be there one moment, informing her of the
perpetuity of his struggle, and quietly, unassumingly gone the next. He wanted to leave only emptiness behind
where he had just stood…the kind of emptiness she could only fill by engorging herself on/with (you decide)
the words wrought by/from his eternal torment. I guess it’s really unnecessary to use the word, Idiot, here. In
the battle between implicit ‘n’ explicit, implicit wins again.
Looking back on it, the only thing even slightly shameful about this fantasy was the fact that whenever he
played out how it should have been in his somewhat muddled mind, Molly Toothsome always remained fully
clothed. (That’s what I mean by muddled.) There’s gotta be a story in here somewhere.