Nonfiction: Selections from Salvatore Difalco
A guy on a unicycle was pedaling up the Roselawn Hill with the the greatest of fucking ease. I was walking back from the grocery store, huffing and puffing, my sweating ass itching, my shoulders and arms numb from the burden of my knapsack and the grocery bags. But this guy, wearing a deep purple helmet and sporty wraparound shades, surmounted this hill like he was coasting along a flat strip of blacktop. Not every day you see a dude on a unicycle, not even in a big city like this. I figured he must have been some kind of circus performer or stunt man. Oddly, as his feet pumped the pedals, he held his arms to his sides at ninety degree angles, and didn’t appear to be using them to balance himself. This work must have belonged to his thighs, which from the looks of it were not exactly massive. And yet they could both balance the guy on the unicycle and power him up the steep Roselawn Hill. Imagine riding a unicycle at all, let alone climbing the Roselawn Hill on it. I both admired and hated this guy. I admired him for the obvious reason that he was doing something extraordinarily difficult with relative ease. But I also hated him because he was doing something extraordinarily difficult with relative ease.
ON BEING NOTHING
I liked the existentialists. I liked the German philosophers more. The fabulous writing styles of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche entranced me: Schopenhauer’s steady, elegant and relentless progression of sentences, and Nietzsche’s aphoristic punchiness fired my imagination. I even tried to learn to German. The problem with German, I found, and it is probably a personal failing, was that the word Heinz, or a sound combination that sounded like Heinz, kept repeating whenever I read or spoke German. So it would be this that and Heinz, over and over again. I should have ignored it, and continued with my German language studies, but I couldn’t. Heinz became too distracting. I’m not afraid of learning new languages. My first language is Italian, and I learned English and French without difficulty. Maybe the open vowels of Italian, eh, oh, ee, ew, and so on, had not trained my ears for the guttural and buzzy sound palate of the German language. Heinz: couldn’t get around it. And I don’t mean to disparage the German language. Some of the greatest works of literature and philosophy are written in German. I know this. And I fought myself not to hear that ringing word, or sound, Heinz, every time I read or tried to speak German. But I did. So I abandoned German but continued to read its philosophers in translation. The existentialists smoked a lot, from what I gather. You can tell by their photographs that they were smokers. In many photographs taken of them they are smoking. Sartre and Camus were big smokers, probably liked Gitanes. When I was in Nice years ago I actually bought a pack of Gitanes at a tabac shop. They were quite awful. I can still taste them. I was into existentialism back then. But I still had the future waiting for me to shake off the existentialist gloom that infected you when you had read too much Sartre and Camus. Now that future has passed. A future still remains, but it is briefer than the last, with less promise, and the pervasive gloom is not an affectation but a real sense that life, my life, is meaningless.
As the night fog lifted, outlines of surrounding buildings appeared like an army of giants marching toward my balcony. I had trouble negotiating my footing on the parquet floors, as though they had just been buffed with a frictionless wax. I don’t know what was wrong with me. Saying I didn’t “feel right” leaves a large cognitive gap that perhaps only a neurologist could fill in. I needed a physical. It had been a decade since my last one. My cholesterol, back then, stood at dangerously high levels. My doctor prescribed pills, but a few days after I started them, a rash flared up around my abdomen. The doctor took me off the pills and put me on a diet the Puritans would have admired. Who were the Puritans? I haven’t explored the literature deeply enough to comment with any authority. Perhaps they would have disfavored a diet lacking salt, fats, sugars and excessive carbohydrates, but somehow I doubt it. They were their own thing, the Puritans. Their big hang up, I gather, was sex. Any time sex is a big hang up there will be issues down the road. I think of my own Catholic upbringing and the disgust with which it regards sex. I think of my high school sweetheart, a good Catholic schoolgirl, and how sex disgusted her and how I disgusted her for desiring it. I feel bad about all that now as I’m relatively advanced in age and utterly lacking sexual drive. Viagara helps with this, I’ve been told, but frankly celibacy suits me fine. I enjoy the company of women, and on the whole enjoy women as a group, an idea, a fundamental presence in my life. But sex, in the past, too often led to unmet expectations, confusion, bitterness, and recriminations. I was married for a time, but marriage sex is a strange animal. Marriage sex loses heat because spouses are family. Sex with the wife becomes sex with a family member, debilitating. Women must feel the same. But since I don’t know how all men and women feel, I’ll break off from this subject. All I know is that sex no longer interests me in the same way. I can enjoy the occasional bit of pornography, but even pornography isn’t the same. It’s become a bit of a biology or physiology lesson, like dissecting frogs or fetal pigs, all the innards laid bare, everything turned inside out for inspection. Watching pornography, minus the tang of formaldehyde, surpasses dissection as an educational tool. Perhaps the Puritans would have disagreed, but where are they now, eh? The fog has completely lifted. The army of surrounding buildings pose only a metaphoric threat.
If I could come back as any creature I’d likely choose a bird. Flying has always intrigued me, though I hate flying on airplanes. Too big and too loud. But being winged and able to fly under your own power is a whole other thing. I wonder if the birds I hear squabbling in the morning are happy with their lives. Certainly some sound unhappy, though querulous may better define them. But they fly and flit about, doing their thing, in the trees, on the lawns, on the roofs, over the parkland, under the bridges, through the towers, by the skyscrapers, and so on. They get around. And they’re warm-blooded. Maybe they can’t appreciate Picasso or Bach, but they’re very caught up in the business of living and staying alive. Birds don’t seem to have or want much leisure time, I could be wrong about this. Sometimes you see hundreds, even thousands of birds roosting in branches, rustling and chirping away. I wonder what they are communicating to each other during these times, or is simply being there, among their kind, a way of saying this is where I belong. Enough said. And no one can argue that. Everyone is good with it. And naturally, not all individuals get along. Fights break out among rivals and friends alike. An occasional beak or talon will pierce. Feathers will fly. An eye or two will be lost. But on the whole, the bird life is desirable. Predators are a concern; cats and snakes, but more importantly birds of prey: hawks, falcons, eagles, ospreys, and other raptors. What a good word that is, raptor. Perhaps the solution is to be a raptor after all. A peregrine falcon is a beautiful bird of prey. Killing smaller birds, rodents and lizards to stay alive may not appeal to everyone. And yet, a diet of seeds, grubs and worms does not appeal to me.
Lately I’ve had the uncanny feeling I’m being surveilled. Of course, I am being surveilled, I know this from the media, that my cellphone and computer open me to the most insidious forms of data-mining and intrusiveness, but I actually feel as though people, men and women from the government or from other agencies, are sitting at monitors watching my every move. I’ve looked around my apartment for hidden cameras and microphones and found none, but technology, being what it is, may have me fooled. How do I know I am not being watched with a camera tricked up as a banana in the fruit bowl? Yeah, which one? Exactly. It seems absurd perhaps to think I am being surveilled by bananas or any other fruit. But I’m talking more about an intuition, a feeling, than anything based in fact. Why would anyone want to surveil me? I am nothing, less than nothing. I have less effect than a gnat on the affairs of the city in which I live, my country, the world. My presence in it has been nothing but a meaningless blip, perhaps fodder for some minor amusement, or loathing from individuals or groups who find me detestable. Nevertheless I feel like Jim Carrey coming to awareness in The Truman Show, except I know Ed Harris won’t be smooth-talking me out of my horror when I poke my head through the curtain. But why on earth would anybody be surveilling me? Maybe I am funny, my situation, like a dupe in a tragicomedy, taking his shots like a good sport. So I run with this idea, psychologically speaking, that I’m being surveilled, for whatever reason. It doesn’t stop me from behaving as I normally do. I am not a perverse individual and I am too poor to have many vices. Nevertheless, I will admit that at times I play it up for the cameras. I dramatize little moments in my day, my food preparation, my toilette, my exercises, which I perform in the morning to Wes Montgomery: Four on Six, West Coast Blues, Polka Dots and Moonbeams. I’d like Wes Montgomery to be the soundtrack of my life, if it is being surveilled. Right now I’m doing a little soft shoe in my living room, mouthing, Go fuck yourselves, go fuck yourselves ...
Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto, Canada. His work has appeared in a number of journals.