February 7, 2011

Except for the first few paragraphs of each chapter, I took Dead Ginny off the net in 2005 but if you want to read and/or listen to the sucker for free, click this. Thanks. G.


Gerard Jones

Chapter Seven
Coyote Point

"Helloooo . . . ?"

That's Virginia answering the phone. I can hear it any time I want. Her voice is calm and husky and faintly musical, like a cello, and there's always the same inquisitive little pause there at the end that makes it sound like she's going to be happy to hear from me—but then, in the same sad, soft, emphatic voice, she said, "I don't want to talk now," and hung up. Click. Hm. That wasn't quite what I had envisioned as the beginning of what I'd already made up my mind was going to be a lifelong undertaking, but I immediately made the brilliant determination that, all in all, she couldn't have come up with a better way of answering the phone if she'd tried. That she hadn't tried was what made it so perfect. She didn't want to talk, period. Not to anyone. Which put me at least on an equal footing with all the other guys I imagined must have been calling. Why she bothered to answer the phone at all threw me at first, but then I figured, hey, why shouldn't she? Whoever it was was bound to call back, or, if he didn't, someone else would. She was cool. Aloof. Self-contained. Utterly desirable. Perfectly unattainable. That sort of thing used to get me every time. And thanks to her having hung up on me, I had time to think things through. You don't just call someone like a Virginia Good up out of the blue. No. You make a plan. Maybe write her a letter, instead. Yes! A letter! And it wasn't too late! She'd hung up on me! She couldn't possibly have known who I was! It was a reprieve. I felt like Dostoyevsky.

So I wrote her a letter, instead. And what a letter! It was inspired, it really was. Everything came together in that letter. I defined myself. I made myself up. I told her I was a "writer," and that, as a New Year's resolution, I had decided to start keeping a "journal" and that, since I met her on New Year's Eve, I had decided to make this so-called "journal" in the form of letters to her. I kept getting tears in my eyes it was such a good idea. And, as long as I was writing the stuff anyway, I decided to sign up for a night school writing class at the College of San Mateo.

The class was taught by Gordon Lish. He's sort of famous now, himself—or he was there for awhile, anyway. He was fiction editor at Esquire for few years, then he was an editor at Alfred A. Knopf, ran prestigious fiction seminars and made some kind of a stir in the publishing industry by suing Harper's Magazine somewhere around the late eighties or so. The books he edited were critically acclaimed stylistic bare bones masterpieces but never seemed to make much money—things by guys like Don DeLillo and Barry Hannah and Rick Bass and Raymond Carver and Harold Brodkey and Cynthia Ozick—and the five or six books he wrote himself enjoyed some critical success, themselves, but made even less money, which made it hard to show any actual damages when he sued Harper's for publishing unauthorized handouts from his seminars. I'm not sure how it all came about. Somewhere along the line, Gordon Lish had taken to calling himself "Captain Fiction" and charging tons of money to go to his seminars and I guess it ticked him off that Harper's went around giving away what he had to say for the price of a magazine. Nor am I exactly sure what he got out of the lawsuit, either, but I think he won.

All I know for sure is that in the spring of 1963 you could get him for free if you were under twenty-one and for seven bucks a semester if you weren't. I got him for free, myself. Well, for the first semester anyway—and he was worth every nickel of it, too. The next semester I had to pay the seven bucks, but even that was probably worth it. The College of San Mateo was still over at Coyote Point back then. Coyote Point's this rocky bunch of red clay cliffs and eucalyptus trees jutting out into San Francisco Bay, just south of the airport. The class rooms were army barracks left over from World War II. Ice plant held the terrain intact. Gordon Lish stormed into one of the dilapidated Quonset huts with a leather satchel under one arm. He had his own literary magazine, Genesis West, and hung out with guys like Ken Kesey and Gregory Corso. His hair was short and blond and thick; he was sort of short and blond and thick in general. The satchel under his arm had loose papers and books sticking out around the edges, as if it couldn't begin to contain all the wisdom he was eager to impart. His face was flushed. He was out of breath. His gray wool sports coat was rumpled. His tie was loose at the neck of a faded blue work shirt. He seemed pretty image conscious. He also seemed to know the value of a dollar. He wrote his name on the blackboard. Big initials. Chalk chips flying here and there. I'm not an expert graphologist, but the way he screeched the "G" and the "L" across the slate made it clear he wanted people to think he thought a lot of himself—and the way he wrote the rest of his name showed that, underneath all that initial bravado, he was at least as interested in making a buck as, say, any self-respecting orthodontist might be. I thought that was a nice touch. If you want people to think you think a lot of yourself, you damn sure better have something to gain by it.

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Gerard Jones
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