BASS 2015: Victor Lodato, “Jack, July” from The New Yorker, 9/22/14

NYT story illustration by Julien Pacaud

TNY story illustration by Julien Pacaud

The sun drilled the boy’s head, looking for something. He closed his eyes and let the bit work its way to his belly, where the good stuff lived, where the miracle often happened: the black smoke reverting to pure white crystal. A snowflake, an angel. He smiled at himself in the dark glass. It was so easy to forgive those who betrayed you, effortless—like thinking of winter in the middle of July. It cost you nothing. Reflexively Jack scratched deep inside empty pockets, then licked his fingers. The bitch of it was this: forgiveness dissolved instantly on your tongue, there was no time to spit it out.
He’d have to remember to speak on this, when he made his documentary.

~~Available online, text and audio read by author

Doors. Lots of doors. Shut doors, wrong doors, windows that serve as doors.

Jack’s a young guy – twenty-two – with a plan to make a documentary on the up side of meth addiction. His story tells the down side better than any documentary could.

He’s uprooted in time, dissociated from words, and just wandering around Tuscon in July, an endeavor that can in itself be lethal. We start with Jamie, and an incredibly written scene that’s some kind of triangulation of sex, molestation, and insanity.

The story follows Jack over the course of a few hours as he tries to find a place to call home, a place that will offer his next hit.

Or at least a bathroom at a local shop. The effect of his disconnection with plebian realities like time and words makes for comic effect:

“Welcome to Presto’s!”
The blond girl stood just inside the black door, her face gaily frozen, as if cut from the pages of a yearbook. Jack comprehended none of her words.
“Welcome,” he replied, attempting a flawless imitation of her birdlike language. Jack was good with foreigners. Most of his school buds had been Chalupas.
The girl tilted her head; the smile wavered, but only briefly. Her mouth re-expanded with elastic lunacy.
“Ship or print?”
Jack was taken aback. Though it was true he needed to use the bathroom, he was disturbed by the girl’s lack of delicacy in regard to bodily functions.
“Number one,” he admitted quietly.
“Ship?” she persisted.
Jack felt dizzy. The girl’s teeth were very large and very white. Jack could only assume they were fake. Keeping his own dental wreckage tucked under blistered lips, he lifted his hands in a gesture of spiritual peace. “I’m just going to make a quick run to the rest room.”
“I’m sorry, they’re only for customers.”
“George Washington,” Jack blurted, still fascinated by the girl’s massive teeth.
“What’s that?”
“Cherry tree,” he continued associatively.
“Oh, like for the Fourth?” asked Blondie…..
Jack nodded and smiled, tapping his head in pretense of understanding her logic. As he moved quickly toward the bathroom, the girl skittered off in another direction, also quickly.
Perhaps she had to print, too. Or take a ship.
Jack giggled, and opened a door leading to a storage closet.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes,” Jack said to the man inside the closet. “I understand what you’re saying.”

Unable to find the right door, he just pees in back of the building.

This tragicomedy continues as he goes through the small roster of places he might find some water, some shade, some meth. His former girlfriend Rhonda, perhaps. He’s unaware, however, that he walked out on her over a year ago, so she won’t open her trailer door, except to throw a glass of water in his face. But it’s Tuscon in July, maybe that’s good enough.

The transitions make the piece: sudden breaks, like in a dream where you’re standing in your living room one minute, then you’re in the woods the next, and it doesn’t seem strange at all that in the blink of an eye you’ve changed scenes. At other times, complete lack of action persists for an extended time, the story moving to Jack’s head. Lodato is primarily a playwright; I think that shows here, in instantaneous scene changes punctuated by extended monologues of thought. Lodato’s TNY interview is well worth reading for insight into how he wrote this story: his inspiration was the body language he saw around him.

His visit to his mother’s place isn’t impeded by a door; he crawls in a window, and again, finds that more time has passed than he realizes. We also discover the root of Jack’s distress: his sister, Lisa, injured in a dog attack when they were both in high school. Is that fair, to call her the root? Would he be wandering in the sun had the attack never happened? Would any event have sufficed, or was the pain, the guilt, of this one simply insurmountable? “Jack didn’t understand why a person in Lisa’s position couldn’t be allowed to stay inside, in a dark bedroom, for the rest of her life.” I agree.

Jack turned his head, to see if he could spot the train. Flicker of distant traffic: metal and glass. Lost saguaros, catatonic, above which birds drifted in slow circles, like pieces of ash. To the east, the mountains, shrouded in dust, were all but invisible. The train would come eventually, the crazy quilt of boxcars, the fractious whistle.
Oh, but it was so boring waiting for death! Jack had come to the tracks before. When the signal light began to flash, he jumped up. He wasn’t an idiot.
Besides, he couldn’t help himself; his sadness was like a river, carrying him home.

Jack ends up where he started, passing through an unlocked door without pause, closing the circle, making a ring, and a vow of sorts. You can’t always get what you want, you can’t even get what you need, so you take whatever door is open.


One response to “BASS 2015: Victor Lodato, “Jack, July” from The New Yorker, 9/22/14

  1. Pingback: Exit (BASS 2015) | A Just Recompense

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