The following is an excerpt from Home Land by Sam Lipsyte, forthcoming from Picador in January.
Feeling is Not Quite the Word
It's confession time, Catamounts.
It's time you knew the cold soft facts of me. Ever since Principal Fontana found me and commenced to bless my mail slot, monthly, with the Eastern Valley High School Alumni Newsletter, I've been meaning to write my update. Sad to say, vanity slowed my hand. Let a fever for the truth speed it now. Let me stand on the rooftop of my reckoning and shout naught but the indisputable: I did not pan out.
We've got Catamount doctors, after all, Catamount lawyers, brokers, bankers well versed in the Eastern Valley purr. (Okay, maybe it was never quite a purr. Maybe more a surly mewl. But answer me this: Why did we fail so miserably to name this noise with which we spurred out sporting types to conquest? Moreover, why was the mascot of Eastern Valley an animal that prefers elevation? A catamount is a mountain cat, Catamounts!) We've got a state senator, a government chemist, a gold-glove ballplayer, not to mention, according to the latest issue of Catamount Notes, a major label recording artist in our midst.
Yes, fellow alums, we're boasting bright lights aplenty these days, serious comers, future leaders in their fields. Hell, we've even got a fellow who double-majored in philosophy and aquatic life management in college and still found time for a national squash title. Think about it, Catamounts. We didn't have squash at Eastern Valley. We didn't have tennis, either, unless you count that trick with the steel hairbrush and the catgut racquet whereby the butt skin of the weak was flayed. Point being, this boy, Will Paulsen (may he rest in peace), left our New Jersey burg without the faintest notion of squash, yet mastered it enough to beat the pants off every prep school Biff in the land, and still carry a four point zero in the question of Why does the Universe Exist Underwater?
Is this what Principal Fontana meant by the phrase "well-rounded?"
It's fucking spherical, Catamounts.
Alas, my meager accomplishments appear pale, if not downright pasty, in comparison. I shudder at the notion of Doctor Stacy Ryson and State Senator Glen Menninger remarking this update at some fund-raising soiree—oh, the snickers, the chortles, the wine-flushed glances, and later, perhaps, the puppyish sucking of body parts at a nearby motor lodge. Shudder, in fact, is not quite the word for the feeling. Feeling is not quite the word for the feeling. How's bathing at knifepoint in the phlegm of the dead? Is that a feeling?
Here's the latest by me, Valley Kitties: I rent some rooms in a house near the depot. I rarely leave them, too. When you work at home, fellow alums, discipline is the supreme virtue. Suicidal self-loathing lurks behind every coffee break. Activities must be expertly scheduled, from shopping to showers to panic attacks. Meanwhile I must make time to pine for Gwendolyn, decamped three years this June, the month we were to wed. So much for scheduling. Valley Cats who maintained vague contact with me in the midnineties may recall Gwendolyn, that doe-eyed, elklike beauty I met at an aphorism slam in Toronto. What you may not realize is how much I truly loved her, if that's the word for wanting so much to bury your head and weep upon the coppery tufts of a woman's sex while reciting "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death," you can hardly sit on the sofa with her.
Gwendolyn's gone now. The sofa's still here. It's deep and velveteen, a goodly nook for napping, or reading in magazines about Gwendolyn and Lenny, her movie star brother, love, and unacknowledged legislator of her life. They take lazy walks along the shoreline, buy antique paper lanterns for their patio. I don't begrudge them their bliss, if it's bliss. Bliss has my blessing. A patio, though, let a quake crack it open. Let the black earth eat them.
Gwendolyn always said I expected too much from the world.
"You wake up every morning like you should get a parade."
I told her I deserved one with the dreams I endure, the kind that find me sobbing myself awake, groping for last night's roach, or else standing at the fridge until dawn sucking on a frozen bagel. I mean dreams where tremendous dragons rear their spiny heads, sink tall teeth in my neck, muss my hair, sign my report card, call me "Darling," "Shmoo-shmoo." Survive that, you should absolutely get a parade, a lavish procession, a town car motorcade through the Canyon of Heroes with our very own Catamount legend Mikey Saladin, who, if you've been following his career, has really blossomed into a fiercesome example of the hulking contemporary shortstop. (Sorry you had to sit out the World Series, Mikey! Good luck in arbitration!)
But I digress from our topic: discipline. You see, good graduates of Eastern Valley, I'm my own boss. I'm also my own sex slave. I'll squander the hours I should be working trolling the Internet for pictures of women whose leg warmers have been spattered with semen. You could call this my kink, Catamounts, and there are more specimens floating about in the ether than you may care to imagine, though not nearly enough for me. Lately I've stumbled across the same photos again and again. I'm beginning to know names, or else bestow them: Jasmine, Loretta, Brie. I'm sure those names will sound familiar to most of you, and as for Jasmine, Loretta, and Brie themselves, immortal lovelies of the Jazz Dancing Club, what can I say but, "Sorry, ladies." I've been beating off to you for half my lifetime, why should I stop now?
But fret not your frittered looks, ex-Eason Valley girls, your time-slung slack and crinkle. When I exercise my right to self-love I run a sort of projected aging program in my mind, picture you vixens in your necessary twilight, your bodies dinged up by babies, gravity, regret. I figure it's only fair. I'm no young buck myself, though, of course, just turn to my "Intimate Portraits" page in the yearbook and you'll see that I was never anything approaching bucklike. Not unless there's such a thing in nature as a buck turtle.
—From the book Home Land by Sam Lipsyte; Copyright (c) 2005. Reprinted by arrangement with Picador.