“Sometimes life is better than fiction, especially bad fiction. And sometimes life is far more spectacular with a lot of bad fiction in it.”
A.L.Turner – The Suicide Watch of Contemporary Literature
Turner’s career hadn’t hit a rough patch – it had never gotten off the ground in the first place. But he had an idea. He may never have been a good writer, he finally admitted, but he was smart. He was willing to admit that too. And finally owning up to it, he understood that being smart was good enough, if not better.
He’d been reading some essays and articles about what to do about David Foster Wallace. All the DFW shit had gone down a few years prior, but it still pops up from time to time whenever some weak-kneed literary light-loafer needs a little fix of his own virtue, or some wanna-be nun turned wanna-be writer decides she needs to satisfy her sadistic streak by taking a ruler to manhood’s knuckles in some publication that sees venting and any sort of decent writing as the same goddamned thing. So Turner went back to a bunch of those articles to wade through all the lit world’s pandering, outrage and apologies for Wallace’s conduct with women. Wallace had been a louse to some women, it turns out, which wasn’t good. But it also soured Turner’s stomach more than a bit to read all those bantamweights of conviction capitulating so readily to their community’s newfound moral standards.
“Community standards?” Turner groaned. “We’re supposed to be writers. We should loath standards. We’re supposed to be rebels. We’re supposed to take risks, in writing as well as life.”
It occurred to Turner that even Capote and Burroughs probably had more balls than the whole new-wave of weepy, hand-wringing lit boys combined.
And it occurred to Turner that if the risks in his writing weren’t good enough, he could at least take a risk with his life.
It was then Turner understood what he needed to do.
He spent the night writing is own essay denouncing, disavowing and disowning David Foster Wallace. He’d never been a fan – never made it past 100 pages in Infinite Jest, but he wrote the essay anyway, and sent it out to all the literary journals and fancy magazines.
He waited a few weeks. Then the rejections started coming.
“Nice essay,” the one from the New York Times Book Review read. “Well thought out. But the Wallace ship has sailed.”
He waited until he was sure he wasn’t going to get published again. Then he sent a message to Maggie, his old friend from their MFA days. Last he heard Maggie was blogging and freelancing, which translated to making real money doing something else. He said he had something he really needed to show her. Something big.
They met at Turner’s apartment. They sat together on the couch. He gave her the essay. She read it. He asked her what she thought.
“The Wallace horse has been whipped to death. That was like the big thing in, what, 2018? No wonder nobody wants it. If you’d have told me what this was, we both could have saved ourselves some time.”
“Forget the subject,” Turner said. “Is it good? Is it good writing?”
“Its okay,” she said.
“You believe my denouncement? You believe that I disavow David Foster Wallace?”
“Sure,” Maggie shrugged. “You always seemed like a decent guy. Why wouldn’t you? Though I guess I never realized how much you liked Wallace.”
Turner began unbuckling his pants.
“Whoa. What are you doing?” Maggie asked.
“Getting my dick out.”
“No,” Maggie said.
“Why not? I denounced Wallace. I thought it would be okay.”
“No,” Maggie said. “It’s not okay.”
Turner buckled his belt back.
“Then, can we start over?”
“Start over how?” Maggie asked. “With the essay?”
“No. The part after the essay.”
“When you start getting your dick out? Again with that? No.”
“No. Right before that.”
Maggie was confused.
She said, “I guess,” just to see what was going to happen.
This time Turner asked.
“Can I get my dick out?”
“No,” Maggie said. “Still no. But thank you for asking this time.”
“Then I got another plan,” Turner said.
“Plan for what? Whipping your dick out?”
“No. A plan for us. About us. About this. You can write about it. Write about it and denounce me. Disown me for what I’ve just done.”
“Denounce you as what? A creep? Disown and denounce you as a friend?”
“And a writer.”
“But you’re not much of a writer,” she said. “Nobody’s going to care.”
“But they will. Just denounce. Disown. It’ll be great for your writing.”
Maggie thought she was beginning to see.
“If this gets out and catches on, you’ll never get published,” she said.
“I’m not getting published now,” Turner said. “Worst care, nothing changes. Best case, I become a martyr.”
Maggie thought a while longer. She was finally beginning to see the fuller picture.
“I don’t know,” Maggie said. “This feels sort of exploitative. Those woman Wallace victimized….it wasn’t trivial.”
“But I am a creep,” Turner pleaded. “I was gonna show you my dick. Unwarranted dick. Unsolicited cock and balls. People need to know. They need to know what a creep I am. And how you’ve been traumatized.”
“This is starting to sound like some kind of stunt,” Maggie said.
“I assure you, I’m the real deal,” Turner said. “A cretin. A degenerate. A douchebag. Who else would devise such a plan? And I’ve thought this out. Let me get a spot at the library. I’ll have an open reading. I can rent some little room cheap – hell, maybe free. While I’m up there reading some drivel, you run up and douse me with a cup of urine. Douse me for all the shame you’re gonna feel tonight or tomorrow or who knows when. But sometime, for sure. And I’ll make sure it gets filmed.”
“That sounds like assault,” Maggie said. “And I’m not doing jail time for you and your stupid stunt.”
“I won’t press charges,” Turner promised. “And when the story gets out, public sympathy will be on your side. Trust me, there’ll be no charges. But it won’t do me any good if I can’t come out of this a sympathetic character too. So give me a signal – a war cry or something – when you’re ready to fling the pee. Wanna make sure my eyes and mouth are closed.”
“I dunno,” Maggie said.
“C’mon. It’ll be salacious and outrageous,” Turner urged. “Shoot, The New Yorker or Paris Review will be falling over themselves to publish whatever you wanna write about it.”
That perked Maggie’s interest.
“And if nobody publishes it, you can accuse the whole community of being hypocrites for publishing everybody else’s trauma but yours. That they’re silencing your cries. Then somebody will have to publish your complaint. And then they’ll need to publish the essay that came before the accusation of their hypocrisy – your essay accusing and denouncing me. Then it’ll get published too. It’ll all get out there. It’s a win-win-win.”
Maggie’s conscience tried holding firm.
“I can’t do it without knowing you’re a real scumbag,” she insisted. “I need proof. I need cold, hard evidence. I won’t be a liar.”
For her, it was the only way to get the boulder rolling on this thing. Regardless of where it was going, it needed to begin with some truth. That, at least, would be enough of a foundation to justify whatever else might follow.
“I was gonna show you my cock without your consent. That’s not enough?”
“You might have chickened out at the last second. You seemed kind of eager to buckle back up.”
“Fair enough,” Turner said. He stood up and went over to his computer.
“Come here,” he instructed.
She followed him to his computer. He pulled up his viewing history of xHamster.
“What’s this?” Maggie asked.
“My history of watching porn.”
Maggie moved in to take a closer look at all the thumbnails.
“It’s just Asians,” she said. “Asian women. Not even men.”
Turner kept scrolling down the page.
“And some fat women,” Maggie observed. “There’s nothing perverse enough there. Not even any pregnancy porn.”
“But don’t they look young? Some of them?” Tucker asked.
“This is pedo porn? You fucking pig.”
“No. But some of them look pretty young, right?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“Then they could be too young, right? Neither of us has any way of knowing.”
“Sure,” Maggie said.
“There you go,” Turner said. “I look at young-girl porn.”
Maggie still wasn’t sure. Her conscience still hesitated. She pointed at the screen.
“That could be planted evidence. Manufactured evidence. How do I know you’re not making it all up? That could be a concocted history.”
Tucker furrowed his brow.
“What are you asking? You want me to beat-off to one as proof? Is that what you need?”
Maggie turned away in horror.
“How about this one: Hairy ginger and cute Asian lesbians amateur? I don’t remember that one. But it looks good. And sounds good.”
Turner began tugging at his belt again.
“No. Disgusting. Absolutely not.”
She thought for another minute.
“Okay. That’ll stick,” she said. “That’ll be good enough for me. Young-girl Asian porn.”
She stepped away from the computer and cleared her throat.
“Yes. I’ve decided. You’re definitely a lowlife scum-of-the-earth. You deserve whatever’s coming. Yes. Definitely. You do.”
“Excellent,” Turner said.
“But the pee throwing thing, I’m out. I’m not a performer. I’m a writer but not a performer.”
Disappointed, Turner said, “Okay. We can still make this work.”
Maggie went home and wrote her essay about the harassment. She wrote how shocking and traumatic it was be the the near-victim of a trusted friend’s unwarranted, carnal advances. It made her feel helpless, she wrote. She also wrote how Turner subjected her to pornographic images of young, Asian women, many of who appeared and probably were underage. Maggie was sure to include that she was a struggling writer. She debated whether calling herself a struggling writer or artist was better. She decided on writer. It seemed less pretentious.
Maggie wrote the piece as an essay but, technically, it may have been a short piece within the memoir genre. She wasn’t really sure. She’d been out of college a while. She’d needed to write it while it was fresh in her mind. It was rushed. It wasn’t a very good piece of writing, but it didn’t need to be. It was, at least and most importantly, confessional and confrontational. The bad writing could always be excused as raw.
Maggie rushed her story out. It was hurriedly published by The Atlantic, with Turner’s rebuttal just as hurriedly published in The National Review a week later.
Within weeks, two obscure writers rose from nothing to rubbing shoulders with the pantheons of the literary and cultural establishments.
The title of Maggie’s piece was, Was I Date Raped? Where’s the Line? The Atlantic fed the piece with its descriptor: struggling writer abused by trusted former colleague.
For its part, Turner’s rebuttal was a fine piece of sensationalism as well. Its title: Falsely Accused of Date Rape – What Would Jesus Do?, with the descriptor: a struggling artist accused of date rape compares his woes to The Lord Savior. Is he right? And is he just like the rest of us?
In his rebuttal, Turner wrote had he’d only wished to expose his cock, and that exposing ones genitals in miscommunication isn’t that much different than receiving unwanted, unwarranted and unsolicited junk mail, claiming that nobody in their right mind was going to fall into hysterics over mail offering better deals on insurance. All that, he argued, would have applied if he’d never asked permission, which he testified to asking.
And Turner pointed out the irony of having written a heartfelt essay denouncing David Foster Wallace’s abhorrent behavior toward woman, only to become a victim of accusation himself. He belabored the point of how a guy like himself who’s an ally to women, proven by disavowal of their enemy, still can’t – never can – do enough to get things right.
He made the further point that most artists, especially writers of name and note, have been hellcats. He cited Hemingway and Bukowski and Henry Miller and Eugene O’Neill. He argued that maybe a man needs to be an agitator to write. He needs to have a tempestuous spirit and soul. He needs to be free. He needs lusts of all kinds to be one who feels enough to be able to write well at all. Turner wrote maybe that’s what’s wrong with modern writing – it’s been neutered and the only ones left are the eunuchs, conditioned to write as no more than apologists for themselves and all that the generations of their manhood have created.
And so it fit the title, Turner mentioned how it sucked to be accused of something he didn’t do, sorta like Jesus.
This, of course, incited outrage throughout Turner’s former community, which is exactly what he and his current company wanted. He wanted to respond and respond in essays of lackluster writing against the accusations that the problem with modern writing isn’t its lack of hedonism and hellraising – the problem is that for so long modern writing had provided them asylum. It harbored them like thieves and rapists in charge of their own prisons. There was an outpouring of cries from the typical places that the “man’s man”, the boozing brawlers, bad boys and gunslingers of Hemingway and Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson – their time had passed. Such cretins had been put to rest in the world of great words, making room for those far more refined and sensitive to life – to which Turner was quick to reproach, “…though the tepidness of these sublime boys’ words and souls is exponentially disproportional and inverse to the souls of the men they so readily denounce.”
It was a glorious spectacle that got Turner everything he wanted (except the cup of piss to the face with his eyes and mouth shut) – endless opportunities for a writer and flim-flam man who was otherwise unpublishable. In the following months, more essays appeared in The Washington Times, The Clermont Review of Books and Quillett. He was offered a book deal shortly thereafter to elucidate his thoughts on the ills of the state of contemporary literature.
Maggie got most of what she wanted too. After The Atlantic piece, she was offered masthead of a prestigious literary journal that nobody reads and barely pays her enough for a decent pair of shoes. But it satiates her craving for faux importance and authority, and it gives her connections with editors of other obscure journals that now publish her otherwise unpublishable poems and essays and stories, to be distributed and read by a few hundred people, a few times a year, by a readership she understands – a readership and editorship she’s learned exactly how to write to, which makes her very proud of her craft.