“I know of no other advice than this: Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth.” -Rilke
For Richard Brautigan
1. Discovering A Lost Artifact
It’s a beautiful thing that he still reads. It is not often that I meet a person who is doing something no one else does. Sometimes, I think we have all become like ants marching in a rigid line. The word hope rambles into my mind when I meet someone radically different. I was less surprised to meet the old lady who grows flowers by candlelight in her hotel room than I was to meet Randall. I thought that readers were extinct until I had the pleasure of stumbling upon him in a park. I remember my legs being heavy like lead when I walked towards him with the hesitancy of a cat.
“Excuse me sir, but what are you doing,” I asked not sure if I was seeing something that was not there.
Randall looked up from his book and with a smile that indicated he was not disturbed by my question replied, “Sir? You are a curious young man…… I am doing something no man dares do before. I am reading………………………………….”
Sun got in the way of the final words coming from his mouth so I can’t write all of what it was he said. “Unbelievable,” is how I impulsively respond in a complete state of disbelief. I had never seen anyone reading before and I was shocked when Randall invited me to sit next to him.
“Have a seat next to me and stop staring like you just discovered a lost artifact,” Randall said.
2. Out Of Work
“My name is Randall, Randall Sokoloff,” he said to me with an out stretched hand that was looking to pull me in.
He was not wearing a shirt and the mid afternoon sun was showering down upon us. The grass was brown, tough and felt like a hairbrush under my legs. Ducks waddled around begging for spare crumbs. Geese floated gracefully through the lake alongside discarded beer cans. I introduced myself as Gio and shook Randall’s hand with a faintness that comes with not believing something you are seeing.
“I like coming to this park and reading,” Randall said just as casually as if he was talking about the blue sky.
Every man I knew was at work at this hour and the only reason I was free to be walking around, mid afternoon, in the park was because I had three hours off for sick leave.
“Wow,’ was the only interjection I could come up with to give meaning to the mystery my mind was trying to solve.
“You from around here?” Randall asked while rolling onto his side and arching his head with the help of his elbow and hand.
I told him that I did not live to far away.
“What are you doing off in the afternoon?” he asked.
I told him about the spell of vertigo that I had been suffering from for years and how it had gotten real bad at work because of the computer screens that swallow our eyes alive.
“Work now-a-days will keep you until you are on your death bed. You’re fortunate that you have an employer that gave you a break,” Randall said.
I could not help but wonder how it was that he had the afternoon off. When I was about to ask, Randall said, “I like to read to the ducks and anyone who will listen. Most people are terrified when I ask if they want to listen to me read but would you like me to read to you?”
3. The Story That Changed My Life
I felt like there was belt being tied tight around my throat and had trouble getting saliva down my drain- but I was curious. A few deep breaths were what I needed to calm down. Something deep inside of me refused to let this opportunity go. I wanted to see something that I had never witnessed before in my life, a grown man reading from a book.
“Get comfortable. You ready to begin?” Randall asked.
I shook my head with trepidation just like I did the first time I agreed to board an airplane that would shoot me up into the heavens. Lying back down on his back and holding the book up towards the mid afternoon sky, Randall began to read:
It was after seven o’clock when he left the office, preceded by Lorenzo Daza. There was a full moon. The patio, idealized by anisette, floated at the bottom of an aquarium, and the cages covered with cloths looked like ghosts sleeping under the hot scent of new orange blossoms… … ….. ……… …….. ………… ……… .. …….. .. ………….. …. ………………….. …. ….. ………….. ……. …. …….. …. ………… …….. …………. ………… …….. ……… ….. …. ……….. ……. ……… ….. ………. ……. ……. …………. ….. … …. …. …… ……. ….. .. .. ……… …. ……… .. … …. …. …. …… ……….. ….. …. ………………. .. … …. ….. …… ………
He read on and on and on and on into the afternoon. I listened to this new language like a child who licks his first lollipop. I remember my tongue hanging out of place, arched against the roof of my mouth as I felt each word rub up and down my spine. When Randall finished he told me that the story was made up by someone who’s name I can not remember but the title I will never forget, Love In A Time Of Cholera. The sensuality of the story, the degree to which the words inspired my eyes to open up wide was like seeing a rainbow for the first time. Even though I still do not understand what literature means, I held my breath and do not remember breathing again until Randall said, “this book is one of the greatest works of literature, ever.”
4. Twist My Arm
The sun was beginning to play hide and seek when Randall asked me if I wanted to come back to his place and rest my head in his book collection. Book collection!!! I shouted silently within myself. I felt like someone suddenly dropped a heavy object inside my mind. My stomach was standing at the edge of a cliff and nerves were trying to push it over. I could not believe that a person still had a book collection. For a moment I contemplated the trouble that I could get into if I said yes. I still had an hour or so until I needed to present my body back at work. I never before had seen books standing together in one place- let alone rest my head in one.
“Don’t worry, nothing will happen to you, I will just show you my books. I promise they will not bite.” I could tell that I would be safe with Randall- no matter how strange he seemed to me. He wanted me to see something he intuitively knew I had never seen before in my 31 years of life. My arm was twisted by fate- I decided to go.
5. Falling In Love With Words
Randall lived only a half a mile from the lake. He was much taller than I thought and it seemed like he got taller with every step. He walked with a casual gentlemanly grace that I had only seen before in magazines. As we walked Randall made no effort to hide his book from any public person that may pass bye. He could tell that this rattled my nerves.
“Carrying a book is not a crime,” Randall said in response to the way I chewed on my fingernails.
“I know it is not a crime, but no one does it. It is really unusual behavior,” I said.
“So because no one does something, this is good enough reason not to do it?” Randall responded .
I have always believed that silence is the best ingredient when you are not sure what to say. The wind wrapped itself around us like cellophane and I did not quite feel as if I was walking on solid ground when I asked Randall the one question that I could not lift off my mind.
“Why do you still read?” I asked.
Randall laughed a bit as if he himself did not know. We turned a corner that had a sign that read Law Punishable by Public Drunkenness. Randall seemed to be using up too many brain cells before he responded to my question.
” I never had the intention to be a reader. No one in my family for generations had ever read. Then one day I found a page with some strange literary words on it.” He stopped and my ears swelled, eager to hear.
Then he continued, “I re-read and re-read and re-read that page until I became a man in love with words on a page. These words built a paradise in the depths of my being. I started finding words in the strangest of places, collecting them like love affairs, striving to get them all together in one place.”
6. The Book Collection
Randall’s apartment rests upon a sloping lot that runs all the way along a deserted block. The street is covered with overgrown grass and bushes and flowers and wine bottles and discarded boxes. We walked up some old cement stairs to the second floor where his apartment sat in a darkened corner of a snake like complex. When he unlocked his front door I felt a wave of hesitation rub up against my arm.
“After you,” Randall said.
The apartment was dark. The shades were all drawn, keeping the light of day away from the books. Randall was afraid the light could cause the words to fade away, I later learned. As Randall slightly opened a few plastic blinds, what was revealed to me through a shard of light sneaking its way into the darkness, would forever change my life.
At first I thought I would loose control of my arms and feet. When Randall asked me if I wanted coffee or wine his words brought me back to earth. I was standing dead center in a temple of books and was convinced that I had fallen through a Rabbit hole. Every wall was covered with living books- as living as my palpitating heart. It looked as if the walls were made out of books.
“Feel free to walk around,” Randall said as he went to pour us both a glass of wine.
I had never had a sip of alcohol during the day but I was held hostage by a shock that I needed alcohol to defuse. I was running low on free time and I knew that whatever I was to see, touch and/or hear- it had to happen quickly. I began rubbing my sweaty palms up and down the book spines just like I was petting a dog. Names and titles that I never heard of before jumped out at me and lit up my brain like a cigarette. I will never forget certain phrases like: Grapes Of Wrath, Sun Also Rises, The Magic Mountain and Trout Fishing In America.
I have never seen words like this gathered together,” I said in disbelief as Randall handed me a glass of red wine, sat down on the floor and handed me a book.
7. Resting My Head In The Pages Of A Book
“I don’t mind if you just open to any page and plop your head right down,” Randall said as he took a gulp of his wine. “Go ahead, do it if you want.”
I read what was on the cover of the book. It said Tropic Of Cancer, by Henry Miller. I took a big sip of wine and a deep breath both at the same time and like I was squeezing between a woman’s legs I slowly made my way in.
“When I hold the words up closely to my head a feeling of awe and freedom is released in my soul. The smell is akin to enlightenment or drunkenness. This is why it is so tragic that no one reads any more,” Randall said as I inhaled the scent of language.
“Why?” I asked without taking my head out from the book.
“No one knows anymore what it is like to be truly free. To be alone with words on a page and smell them as they linger up into your brain. This gives definition to the life of mankind…that I am afraid has become an empty space,” he said with a passion that might of belonged to the red wine.
I did not really understand what he was talking about and maybe this is why I asked Randall, what I realize now, might of sounded fairly dumb.
“Why is it that anyone would want to be free?” I asked.
Randall giggled a little took a cup sized gulp of his wine and said, “You have to get back to work.”
8. Pulling Out
It took effort to pull my head out from the book. The pages smelled like ink and sex and I could swear I heard people screaming in French inside. Before I left, Randall pulled a particular book off of the shelf and handed it to me.
“Here take this,” Randall said as he reached out towards me.
I was hesitant. What if I lost the book or it ran away?
“Don’t worry I have so many books in storage that one less book will not even make a dent. I would rather you have it than it spend its days in darkness. When you are done come back and I will give you another,” he said pouring himself another glass of wine.
My hands felt like jelly. It was like touching God or breasts- something I had always thought I would never see. I did not know how to read literature and when I told Randall this he said “no worries, I did not either my first time. Just keep your head in between the pages. The book will teach you how.”
I read the hard cover. On The Road, by someone by the name of Jack Kerouac.
“It is a book that forever changed my life,” Randall said.
The book felt like it had blood running through it. I stuck it deep down into my bag, just to make certain that it would not leave a trail. I promised Randall that I would read it. Try at least. He showed me to the door and I remember not wanting to leave.
“The park where you met me today is good place to read,” Randall said. “No one would suspect that somebody would be reading a book there.”
I promised that I would return when I was done with the book. When I thanked him for the wine and book, my nervous words barely made it past my teeth. Randall smiled and opened the door for me. With a smile he said, “the pleasure is all mine Gio…it gets lonely being the last reader on earth.”