met Joe Tabbi and Nicholas
Montfort in a bar in the East Village. They were already peripheral characters
in the hypertext. William and Dirk, lets face it, had slid in the
production department. We needed new writers,
and we needed them fast. Frank was in California. Now you dont know
if this is true, or if the bar that we were in was the holiday
Bar in East Village, in New York
City. The bartender who looks like William
Gaddis and speaks English
haltingly and inconvincingly, in fact drunkenly, had dubbed me the producer.
Joe and I had drunk white wine with David Markson,
who didnt drink much anymore, and we were discussing the
end of history.
It was the first real-time fictionalization that Tabbi had been subjected
to, and he wasnt sure whether a third or first-person narrative
was right for the ongoing present. but the bartender, who announced, sinatras
gone, im here!told us all to go fuck ourselvesand that
distracted us from the paradox of real-time narrative.
The blind electric organ player had heard the patter of the keyboard.
He clicked the Bassa Nova switch and started hurling insults at us as
an enticing rythym pulsed throughout the bar.
A waif appeared in the doorway, looking sad and huge-eyed. Eyeing no peanuts,
it absconded with an ashtray, probably hoping to hock it somewhere down
the street in exchange for a morsel.
The issue of the digital divide was brought
to us in clear distinct terms by a bartender who said fuck your
computer shut off. He wanted me to play some songs in the jukebox
so that he could sing and be the center of our undivided attention. I
wondered if this was autopoiesis and if I was spelling it correctly and
if in fact the majority of the people that
I knew or know are fictional characters including this schmuck behind
The bartender tried to explain that our writing with a fucking computer
at his bar interrupted his life, his conception of what his bar should
be. Was this like whipping out a cellphone at an all mens club with
rules from the 19th Century? All the women are wearing skirts and I begin
to think that the end of history is near and that it might be a good thing.
And so I begin to love the simple harsh coding of HTML, which even a lumpen
ill-trained in grammar can understand.
The photographer and the fashion model experience
nothing compared to the grief that a writer feels with a laptop in an
The bartender challenged us to be producers, and we were producing.
Watch where you hitch your wagon.
It might bite you in the ass.
Rain came down, harder than the drizzle when we arrived. Not a sign of
the second round, though wed ordered it more than ten minutes ago.
Nick noted that he enjoys writing in the third personit made him
feel like Norman Mailer (who felt like Henry Adams when he tried it in
Armies of the Night).
A photographer asks Scott to keep his profile to the camera while she
takes a shot of the bartender.
The organ player, from the other room, leaves off his Bassa Nova-inspired
string of insults and begins kicking out the jams.
The laptop is handed off.
In the darkness, the luminous Apple signals out from the typer like a
beacon, summoning comments from the surrounding people at the bar.
What kind of a notebook is that? Hey, youre typing
in a bar! Heeeeaah! Is that an Apple? I used to have an Apple
The writer perseveres, pausing only to take an occasional swig of tequila.
Yes, by now the beer-to-tequila transition has been made. The writer hesitates
for a moment, sips, bites the lime, licks the salt off of his wrist, and
Someone comes to the door and knocks, as if it were the door of the
Law. No one answers, so the person comes in, as if it were the door
of a Bar instead of the door of the Law.
A small form flits by the doorway, quickly. Perhaps it was the dejected
waif. Perhaps some reveler.
A single, lugubrious couplea midget woman and a octogenarian manbegin
dancing a sort of waltz.
The writing continues, fervent, earnest, as if the writer were creating
the surrounding world. Only a brief break for
another sip of tequila.
Meanwhile, Scott and Joe are being macked on earnestly by chicks.
The one engaging Scott in conversation undulates her youthfulperhaps,
despite New York State laws to the contrary, teenagebody provocatively
as she coos to him. Joe has a more sizeable and determined suitor, who
begins quizzing him about his astrological compatibilty.
I dont have a sign, actually, Joe says. I wasnt
born, you see.
Nick types furiously, casually, as if authoring some Borgesian dream of
a woman in a fictive lecture hall. In fact, hes writing a ghastly
and nightmarish vision, set in a surreal post office, that wont
make it past the Unknowns flimsy editorial processwhich involves
little but squinting and reading through but which is still sturdy enough
to prevent such disturbing, grisly scene
from seeing the phosphorous light of the screen.
Nick, a notational neophyte, knows that not. He types fervently, sweat
forming on his brow, and, in a disgusting and off-putting manner, on his
trembling upper lip.
Joes cool replies fail to dissuade the woman who is chatting him
Nick takes a swig of tequila and keeps punding at the keyboard.
Turn fucking computer off says the bartender again, making
a circular gesture with his hand, and slapping the back of the laptop,
Crane kick is invulnerable to all attacks!
Nick says, knowing that the bartenders grasp of English is fragile.
He closes the keyboard for a moment, smiles, and waits until the bartender
looks away to resume typing.
Scott remarks that Nick gets laid a lot for a kid of his age, that when
Scott himself was Nicks age, he spent like four months reading Becketts
trilogy and comprehensive criticism of Becketts
trilogy, and drinking Irish whiskey, interspersed with periodic rounds
of marijuana from Kentucky, not getting laid, spending much time thinking
of a Catholic girl he once knew, in remembrance of fling past, and that
two years before the time Scott was Nicks age, and meanwhile reading
Becketts novels which were in fact about what a pain in the ass
it was to be a writer when it is now impossible to say anything, really.
And still having trouble putting together a sentence, really. Markson
would have been thinking about baseball and Anne Beatty. Such is the lot
of the serious writer, or was in the twentieth century.
The nubile youngster pursuing Scott has insinuated herself almost into
The midget and octogenarian were dancingwell,
not cheek-to-cheek, exactly, but slowly and close.
Now Nick began typing with renewed energy, as if he had abandoned the
Borgesian lecture hall and started to dream an
enticing woman from scratch.
The nubile youngster left the room, Scott was thinking about Beckett again.
A woman was sitting at a machine which replicated gambling in Las Vegas,
poker, but it did not put out . . . chips . . . like in Vegas.
The woman, perhaps twenty-two, was wearing a halter-top, black, probably
some kind of cotton ah synthetic mix. Tabbi pointed her out in order to
argue for some kind of Joycean interpretation
of events involving simple fate.
Thank god we dont have a war to worry about, and that jobs
are fucking easy to come by, and that we can be whatever the fuck we want
to be right now, Frank said. A woman in leather pants was undulating
at the pinball machine. What would Gaddis
have thought of her?
t was amazing to watch Scott
putting out text. He had an almost unimaginable intensity about him. Earlier
Id had to take my full-length mirror down off the wall for him to
do linesthe smaller mirror I kept on hand
for such purposes wasnt adequate.
Now, he laid down paragraph after paragraph, directly into an intimidating,
steaming tangle of HTML. The chicks began to flock around him in admiration,
leaving the bartender to wail by himself at the other end of the bar.
I lubdbvs you guys
I dont believe you
thats the wrong beer
It was hot and it stank, and all attempts to write like Gaddis
on a small keyboard were bound to fail.
The bartender grew irate.
why you fuck yourself now?
its our job were writers.
fuck you i dont go a shit about writers. im drunk. you sober? look at
that shit: wahhhhhhhhhhahhhhhhhhahhhhhhhahhhh.
that was a long note.
Scott ordered another round, to distract the bartender from the productionbut
the writing was attracting attention around the bar, and taking attention
away from the bartenders own variations on Sinatra.
The round, it seemed, was not going to materialize. The bartender was somewhat
placated by a photographer who appeared and called him sweetie, urging
him: just do your thing. I love Paris, crooned
the jukebox, and the bartender answered with an
Happier, he seemed slightly more disposed to get another round for us. The
Christmas lights began to twinkle unnervingly. They twinkled in a way that
Christmas lights do not twinkle. The possiblities raced through everyonesminds as all at the bar glanced up: electromagnetic HERF blast from a terrorist,
the Rapture, drunken bartender shorting out
the wire by leaning precipitously against the counter.
The three of us sauntered into a book-and-B-movie themed
bar. Sauntered, perhaps. Maybe we merely ambled. We might have even trudged.
It was too late and we were too far gone for gait analysis.
A grisly exploitation film was playing on the back wall of the place.
Beefcake sailors were strutting on-screen one moment, and then bikini-clad
women were being hacked apart. Perhaps they were strutting. It may have
been more of a stride.
Nick went to the bar to procure drinks. The cute, orange-clad bartender
didnt come over for a moment. Sorry, she said as she walked up, gingerly
holding onto his arm. I was daydreaming. Allow me to fantasize about
you for a moment more. Sure, babe, Nick said, allowing her another
moment of reverie before he ordered round of whiskey.
The music turned decidedly less Europoppy, and more harsh.
Scott remarked that many of the hip NYC bars seemed to be shabby imitations
of the hip Cincinnati bars which were themselves
shabby imitations of hip NYC bars. But what about the hip bars in Dayton?
None of the bars in Normal were hip but many
of New Yorks finest editors considered Normal to be the center of
hip writing, without in fact realizing that it came from Normal. They
thought it was all just expatriate NYC writing. Go figure.
Just then, Frank walked in. Shit went to pot. From there. Participles
began dangling and modifiers to signify nothing.
Frank Marquardt had never lived in nyc and yet somehow had begun to symbolize
all of the citys flaws and strengths.
Sauntering through the wilderness of this world, Scott narrated the plot
of his work-in-progress: a morality play for four hands, to be performed
on a player piano.
Frank recounted a tale of a tale he had overheard while sitting at the
Essex House bar, of a multimillionaire who was addressing a man who made
only one hundred thousand dollars a year. The multimillionaire, Frank
said, had told the younger man, a man of some 38 years of age, that when
he, the multimillionaire, was the age of the younger man, some 15 years
before, he had made only one million dollars per year, and had felt inadequate.
The multimillionaire said that when he was at the age when he made only
one million dollars per year, at one point he found himself in a room
with men who made 10 to 100 times the million dollars that he himself
made. It was at that point, Frank said the multimillionaire said, that
the millionaire said that he realized that he needed to change, and so
put forth his best efforts and became a multimillionaire, because, in
the end, who wants to marry a millionaire? Frank said that the man who
made only one hundred thousand dollars a year had blanched and began stuttering
in fear for the future of his children who were only three and five years
of age. The multimillionaire advised the younger man to find the guy in
his highschool who would have never socialized with, the smartgeek, and
to treat him like a million dollars, so that he, the younger man, could
too become a multimillionaire, a term which does not suffice for the extent
of wealth which the older man had become. And this is one way in which
Frank became a Virgil for nyc.
Nick in the meantime was telling joe about the time when he worked for
certain government agencies in certain countries for a certain time,
spent mostly reading zork installments and Wired online.
thats what intelligence is all about, Nick said. You think its all
picking locks and entering surreptitiuosly into enemy buildings and such.
But it isnt. Most of the reliable intelligence is obtained by looking
at things which have already gone through an editorial process, even one
as shoddy as you see with Wired online.
Frank smiled a sort of smile that encompassed not only talk of intelligence
work, but the whole world. Everyone at the bar became placid and, no doubt,
truly happyfor that one moment. Then they returned to their previous
concerns, which centered on how they were to become millionares or, if
possible, multi-millionares, preferably by appearing on some sort of game