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Lily
for Shannon

Dearest Shannon:

Funny to hear from you. It really is. Funny for a few reasons, most of them being vague connections that my mind made, three seconds before opening the mailbox, that you would never understand, which is why I wonít tell you them. But check this out: right before I went to the door to check the mailbox, the guy on CNN came on and started talking about that collision on the runway at OíHare last night (I guess that by the time you get this it will be the collision on the runway at OíHare a couple of days ago). Then I remembered when I went to see you guys in Chicago for Dianaís opening back in Ď07 and for some reason I had this feeling I would hear from you, in particular, soon. Then I go to the mailbox and boom. Letter from Shannon. Boom. Something Dan would appreciate, donít you think?

Let me apologize first for not taking the time to handwrite it, my letter, like you did. I know you would have appreciated it, but I just couldnít resist imagining your face when you saw it was my response and then opened up and saw a printed response.

You leave me no choice. Your questions left me cold.

What do you want me to do, Shannon? You really expect me to go all the way back there and touch all those memories, jot them down, add standard form letter greetings + good-byes, or, as memory to paper, also, prostitute a physical section of my head + past, to think it amusing enough for me to waste the time? I wonder, I think not? Maybe just to walk down those same roads, take the same subways (remember?), and see them as youíve always seen them. And on paper, the words are visual music, playing in the background coagulating with language and it comes as natural as thought, easy as pie because you can write as you see, write as you are. What you want is me to do this again, memory to paper, again, but now you want answers.

Havenít you read the reviews? Iím great at posing questions. But my answers are weak and clichť.

Listen, Shannon: Your question is not unique. Everyone wants to know what happened. Some even dare to ask what happened before then, way back when we were the blasphemous gods and goddesses we were (remember?). I reclaim a part of my destiny every time I write another word, regardless of what theyíll ever say about me, so this memory to paper, this answer you seek, this therapy of yours, this shit, hopefully will all be settled. Let me think.

Lily. Shit. I donít really remember the first time I met her, but thatís okay, cause I donít remember the last time I saw her either. It must have been back at the Brooklyn digs because I remember I had already moved out of Queens by then. And Diana and Nolan were still around, and I remember Dan complaining about the fucking jingle bells she wore, on her ankles. So it was at the digs. Right. In the kitchen (remember?)

Itís weird. As far as she is concerned, the only specific thing I remember about her (besides the damn bells) is her face. I recall looking at her face and wondering whether or not I found her attractive. Aestecically, it was attractive, but for some reason this didnít really factor in. It was more important, I felt, to the effect of her face that it was interesting to look at. I canít really explain it. Ever since I got your letter, I have been trying to remember one other goddamn thing, but have been unable to.

Iíve tried. But bringing all that shit up again, seeing the past, for me to try and deal with that, now, specific scenery from images now fifteen years gone, hurts my head to think it. When I began to seriously try to recall, smoking a pipe with my eyes closed, what comes easy is not detail but mood, flavor, and impression...

You were there. You experienced it. Think about the 24 year old writer, obnoxious as hell, reacting to it. I picked what I saw (and you and her gave me, all of us, plenty), and maybe it was too much. But I picked all of it up. What you didnít give me I filled in. Itís a great story, isnít it?

Think: repressed, beautiful, tragic, unhappy female teenage jazz singer, drop-out of the establishment, brash, and, well, obnoxious, living in New York City for the first time (and donít tell me it didnít go to your head. It went to all of ours.), suddenly, at the end of her rope. Bills unpaid. Male relations unsatisfactory. Career on hold. Big fucking scar on your forehead (before the surgery, of course).

Enter: free-spirited hippie sprite from back home, jingle-belling her way through a week in New York City.

What if?

What if repressed lesbian tendencies?

-donít ever try to tell me you guys didnít get all comfortable on the mattress in front of Diana and I. I saw her touch your breast twice. Like, touch. You didnít even flinch. The next day, you tell us youíre leaving.

Then the ball gets rolling... What if... Finally, the big orgasm!?

Doesnít that sound like a good skeleton of a story? I thought so.

Naturally I needed an editor, so I went to Dan, ran my skeleton by him and he confirmed the parallels and fleshed it out a bit for me. I canít recall how Nolan was clued in. I remember thinking as Dan and I discussed it how fun it would be to try and sell it to Nolan. But I donít remember the circumstances.

But you get it, I know you do, so here: Think of the writing profession. Hm? Fiction. Non-Fiction. Journalism? Hah! Fiction writers are the best journalists around. Think of a reporter. I just jumped on a story. A fiction writer is a journalist who only asks himself questions, only interviews himself.

And anyway, wouldnít it have been more interesting if it had happened that way? Really.

I remember telling you that night when you, Diana, and Lily grilled me after you told them about your talk with Nolan that it was all a game for me. It was, but not in the way you think, me taking advantage of gullible Nolan. It was me, playing tricks, on me. It was me using what I could use.

Can you remember me now, then? How much fun it all was? What it was like to live with ďJoseph OíLearyĒ? What mischievous, legend-making, blasphemous heroes we were! Shannon! She was my audience member, man! That is the way this story comes out of this mind. Itís what I do. I resented the chaos in the apartment but ultimately loved it for the material it gave me. Think of it: youíve read three-quarters of every book Iíve written. How many references do you notice? A lot, I bet. Trauma stays with you, Shannon. And when something like that stays with you, you have two options. Use it or go crazy. I translate. You flaunt. I say, whatever works.

You know that.

Always,




ps. As for me? Iím still writing. Next book should be out early next summer. I spend a lot of time alone, assuring myself pleasant company. I ride the subways. Just to look, absorb.

pps. Next time, donít wait until your therapist tells you to write. Iíd love to hear from you anytime.

ppps. Diana says hi. And no, I have no idea where Nolan is.


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