village backstreet, dublin
about tim sullivan
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A brief fiction by tim sullivan
Is this the one that's going to blow my brains out?
Seeing Tim Sullivan walk in the door, counterguy decides, No,
not gunfire this one, but something, yes something is off about him;
a faggot. Or a liberal. But anyway . . .
The liquor store smells like stale wine, like a pile of sliced orange
sections left out.
Tim Sullivan smiles at counterguy. The wooden box of a store also smells
like Christmas. If this were backeast, and not southern California, there
would be wet puddles on the floor, or at the very least, stains from
puddles past. There would also be more cinnamon. And, of course, his
dad would be friends with the counter guy and Tim Sullivan would be four
years old, more interested in the colorful cans of soda sequestered in
a lonely section of the refrigeration units, wishing beyond wishing that
their toy-like colors made them toys. But alas . . .
Going to a party, he picks too bottles, wondering what the labels mean,
then shuffles guiltily toward the counter.
"So," counterguy says, assuming correctly Tim Sullivan’s foreign
origins, "how are you liking Los Angeleez?"
Tim Sullivan -- he’s lived there over a year now -- wants to be
The thing is you’re apt to forget what it was like when you first
got there. Or, at least, I’m apt to forget. And that’s where
the tragedy lies, in the gradual erosion of one’s (at least one’s)
regard for the most precious thing one ever gets close to -- a sort of
intimate relationship with your physical surroundings -- life, you could
call it, but only for lack of a better word, or only because when you
say "life" you know what you’re talking about, but another
person . . . who knows what they think you mean? They probably think
you mean the sting of the scholarship they didn’t get or that one
beautiful girl they got to fuck or the time they met Puff Daddy or waiting
to die or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or why is thirty-six too old
to play with Barbies or why can’t I have pretty breasts like a
woman I so want pretty breasts like a woman or these politicians have
got to be stopped with their sanctioning of immoral, unchristian --
But what am I referring too?
I’m referring to a chunk of air inside my body. Not air. Something
like air. Invisible. Weightless. There but not there.
I’m referring to -- they maybe know what a "word" is
or "a thought" -- but where, for Christ sake, is the nexus?
What, for Christ’s sake, is the matrix? Perhaps it’s "Chemicals."
Warp speed back to a classroom with lab tables, as dark and flickering
as a cave lit by torches. Thin, unapologetic Mr. Ercole Spinelli -- it’s
so much more beautiful in the Italian, Aircolay, which is how the tittering
girls call him, with their blonde and brown hair, their curls, their
clothes, and their smells, when he is not listening -- Mr. Ercole Spinelli,
with his steady, measured energy, says,
"Does anybody know what Chemistry is? Does anybody know what Chemistry
He does not wait for someone to raise his or her hand. He waits only
to take a breath, for his gaze to flicker across the room, to judge perhaps,
perhaps to learn, before he says,
"Chemistry is not the study of Chemicals."
Then he gives the definition, but it is just as stupid as what he says
Chemistry is not. Well, perhaps not just. But similarly limited. Because
we can’t know anything we never feel or touch. (Sometimes it feels
like we can’t know anything that hasn’t hurt us.)
What was that great divide? There was a divide between the rationalists
and the empiricists.
am so divided.
Science tells us that a thought is . . . a chemical? Well, the readings
they take when they measure "brain activity" are electrical.
So this is my question -- is there something there? Or is the thought
something that happens in the space between things whose size and shape
I do not understand.
Okay, let’s begin again, with that in mind.
"Thought" (noun, singular).
I’m referring to something in my imagination. I imagine a thought as a
link. A point of contact, an amorphous one, within a network orderly in the center
and tattered at the edges: the structure of my language.
(One realizes, now, that how could the structure of a language be stable when
it grows -- or does it? whatever -- within a living thing? There are no straight
lines in nature. So picture it perhaps as a cluster of frog’s eggs moving
gently up and down on the surface of a pond that grows like human baby -- splitting
and growing, splitting and growing -- and then a fox dances to the edge of the
water and -- SLLLLLUUUURRRRPPP -- the shape of our language is different. Right
okay, so we’ve got the language thing -- the Web of Grammar and Syntax
But these words are not just their coordinates in the network of grammar and
syntax. They are also attached to my memory and my memory is attached to my words.
Memory is like photography. When photography first emerged into the world, men
and women, according to my intuinformation, were struck with a sense of the momentous.
You can imagine quite easily how boggling it must have been to see for the first
time -- after a lifetime of drawings, paintings, words, memories, and the present
moment -- a frozen image done up in colors and lines of a detail and depth that
you cannot readily distinguish from the colors and lines of, as they say, the
hand in front of your face. But the other momentous part is the resemblance to
memory. Think on these words:
Let’s take the frog-egg cells again. The light hits them and it stays inside.
The sound hits them and it stays inside. They are stained. They hold the SLURP
forever, some of them, those that were close to the catastrophe, they hold the
sensation of their neighbor rent by the fox’s tongue, by the reflexes of
his slick, feline maw.
So life means all of that. It means the rhythm of the water underneath, the contents
of whatever file I find when my linguistic faculty thumbs through drawer L-M
in search of the E after the F after the I after the L.
Tim Sullivan silently whines:
This shit is so complicated.
So, if we’re generous, we can see why he takes so long, why it is hard
for Tim Sullivan -- by many folk (not just his mom, dammit) said to be educated
and not entirely unintelligent -- to answer the dude behind the counter when
he asks how Tim Sullivan likes Los Angeles.
"It’s terrific," says Tim Sullivan. "I like the colors. The .
. . complexity."
"Ah," says the guy behind the counter, tapping the proffered bottle, "Like
a fine wine."
Tim Sullivan puts his money down. He gets that way sometimes. Sensitive. Paralyzed.
Overwhelmed. Whatever it is, refuge from these pricks of a thousand pins is costly.
The only way to feel safe about being constantly pricked is to stop caring about
it. Luckily, tragically -- again, whatever you want -- aging makes it easy.
Wump, wump, his feet on the warped wooden floorboards, then:
copyright © 2003, tim sullivan
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