from Alphabet of Love Serial
Lou Rowan



Sitting or standing, moving or taking a stance. There are 49 in the room, and 21 know each other by name. The music, something technical from Europe, is loud and the walls are bare save for the iconic Newman whose edges are imperceptible, wall and canvas the same pale ivory, and the black vertical line could be a wire, could be leading to a speaker producing the sounds , it is perceptible after 10 minutes, that aggregate feedback of the conversations in the room, phrases scrambled, words and sources distinguishable, issuing from 7 speakers and 2 subwoofers, the sounds of glasses, of chairs moving, of heels on abstract parquetry, and doors, and of dishes on the glass tables scrambled into an interval-system that supplies rhythm to the voices, a metronomic rhythm, a pulse-interval the system of whose governing program might be recognized critically sometime this new century.

The 21 known names are of 1 through 7 syllables, and the names in use are both given and family names, and there are 3 names with foreign prefixes, one honorific. The 28 unknown names sit, stand, move, or take stances. The correlation of the music to these motions could be measured, were there adequate space, scaffolding and instrumentation. Correlating the motions and the utterances of the 49 known names to these correlations could be measured only provisionally and discretely, for instance:

As D, a known, released himself from 3-minutes with his former spouse and business partner, he inhaled and exhaled deeply 2 feet from C, an unknown, who had taken a stand near the drinks table, but whom the music had stimulated to move without conscious objective, and he was aiming at the same 5 sq. of parquetry to which the exhaling D was turning from his encounter with the well-known, and the awkwardness of their near-collision caused them both to chuckle and look into each others green eyes and moderately-anxious faces while lightly restraining each other with fingers on each others' shoulders, allowing the fingers to trail down and linger on forearm and bicep, as each uttered, unsynchronized, "Well hello," caught by the music and diffused throughout the huge room while C and D took stances faces to face in their space.


E, F

The clothsrack was 20' long, and E's size was towards the large, long end. E waited for noontime shoppers to leave, shuffled about the store, forcing his attention onto object after object, none registering in his memory, so that when he addressed them a second time and a third time, they were novel and alien. Cufflinks, wrist chains, belts, wallets, ties, shirts, socks, collar stays, sweaters, jackets, he studied them all without the help of sales clerks, and without purpose until he judged the area around his intended rack clear.

The sounds of the large space dizzied E, the wisps of conversation between fathers and sons, between raucous teens, between tailor and buyer before a mirror, the strains of the live piano music from the stairwell by the music student who made E feel guilty because she was ignored by the crowds, her sonatas tempting him to stand over the piano and hope she appreciated his love of music and his wish that he could make her feel better, followed by his chiding himself that she probably was accustomed to the neglect, that she could have picked pieces by Eric Satie intended for these circumstances, and guilt that he was looking at her beauty, wondering if he'd have the same feelings were it a young man, then remembering that last week when he approached the same rack too soon for the seasonal change it had been a young man and he had experienced the same sequence of confusions; and so now he felt only more confused as he approached the rack, hoping the pleats were finally gone at the large long end, for he was not to wear bulky pleats, no matter what size his girth.

E's weight varied + 20%, and his embarrassment was proportional to its magnitude. When he sat and his belt constrained his belly, he wore XXL shirts, sweaters, jackets to mitigate the bulge. His senses dulled, his social skills declined as the bulge grew. His erectile function weakened, and he apologized to anyone concerned, including sometimes himself. He liked pleats because they left his loins ill-defined, which he sensed was exactly what they were. He did not believe D.H. Lawrence when he wrote "loins," but he believed that most other men-and now he cast his eyes about the store and saw 3 examples-were happy with their loins and their functionality. When his penis was soft and withdrawn, like a baby, he could not believe that it was a valid, competent penis, something for which women could long. He felt women as a demand he must avoid, like the clothsrack. He loved the term "wallflower," and longed to find one, his own, yet maybe (he told himself as he made his final circle) he had, maybe that was why his love-experiences were so confusing, they were substandard, and clarity could exist only in standard love-experiences, and if he could only bring himself to do something about his appearance, he could do something about his loins and his love.

He could not avoid women, because he felt inadequate alone, and inadequate felt worse than incompetent, and because alone was eccentric, and though he was capable of being eccentric, he was not capable of suffering the judgment of others that he was eccentric. He might have tried to play the piano; had he been more willing to be eccentric, he might have followed his dream, his bliss. He was bitter at all the failed loves in his life: he was as angry with them as he was with the clothsrack, now coming towards him and in focus, and there, even more annoying, a tall young man was pulling a pair of unpleated trousers from precisely the spot E had targeted and retargeted, and he said "fuck it"--under his breath he thought--and the young man, last week's piano player, turned, and smiled, "Yes, I hate shopping too."



In hospitals the relationship between the machines, the instruments, the labyrinth of corridors, the rushing gowned bodies, the smells suggesting chemicals and secretions, and the human perceptual apparatus is exploratory at best. The unreason of hospitals is constant through history. To be a patient tests free will as radically as a family of origin.

G repeatedly passed out in medical circumstances. When he was young and drinking he saw a black-and-white movie, "The Brink of Life," and he couldn't withstand the threat of the birthing ward: he could smell a hospital in the Greenwich Village theatre, and left hastily to pass out by the curb on Bleeker Street. He passed out twice more in Village hospitals, once during day surgery to remove a ganglion bulging from his back, and once while his vas deferens was cut loose. He passed out as a teenager near Wilshire Boulevard when his oral surgeon showed him the incision, red like his imagination of a vagina, from which his wisdom teeth were being taken.

When he was admitted to the same Greenwich Village hospital for an intestinal illness he was in pain and feverish. Access to his infection was through his sphincter, and preliminary information about its extent and nature was obtained manually. He sat for 2 hours in an examination room, to be joined not by his specialist but by 7 interns and residents, for St. Vincent's is a teaching hospital. Face down on a gurney, we was probed by each of the 7 as they discussed his infection, leaving their fingers in there as they talked. His anger and his pain prevented his fainting, but because he was unsure what lay ahead in this hospital he did not remove his anus from their fingers, even when they asked him questions implying that passage was a location of his sex life.

His specialist elected conservative treatment, which sounded reassuring to G. G visualized his intestine as a soft hose with a hole in it, surgery would tape or re-attach the ends of the hose, after which he would have a new set of pains to deal with, and a new set of explanations to present his visitors. His roommate in the semi-private suite was Hiram, an old man undergoing consistent attention from nurses and residents, requiring Hiram's bed to be curtained from G's. A nurse chuckled over Hiram, who was cantankerous and old, but her chuckle implied he had a right to be. Hiram was an improvement over Dave, who'd moved on to the cancer floor. Dave discussed endlessly his longing for Ray's Original Pizza, right around the corner, but forbidden to him. When Dave's wife visited, she said, "Now Dave, you know you can't have it." To which he would reply, "But it's Ray's Original Pizza."        

G felt bad about himself; he had a non-fatal and somewhat vague illness. G didn't know how to respond to Dave's cancer, but he noticed that Dave was apologetic too, apologetic to the doctors and nurses because he did not understand what they were about to do to him. Dave never asked why, he tried, haltingly, to grasp what.

Dave disappeared while G was exercising in the hall: 50 L-shaped laps pushing his IV post.

Hiram stared at G when his curtain was open, but did not respond when G greeted him politely. His skin was grey where his beard sprouted and pale ivory elsewhere, his legs and arms smooth like prosthetic devices.

G's continual objective was to make adjustments to his life that would make him feel good about himself: if he felt good physically, and even looked good, he would feel good generally. This hospital stay was progress towards the objective because he was not eating; conservative treatment dictated he give his bowels a rest, and his visitors marveled at his figure but derided his experimental mustache.

Talking with patients along the hall, G concluded that they saw themselves, sheepishly, as defective products, and his heart might have gone out to them did they not disappear, and did not he struggle not to believe everything inside him that wanted to agree with the hospital's treatment of him and them.

He longed for visits from his specialist, and for signs that his intestines were being treated. His worst moments were trivial: when he could not hold in the enema as long as the nurse demanded and rained from his bowels too soon; when he was kept waiting in an empty hall beyond the sonogram center for 2 hours, sitting on his sore spot in a wheelchair the orderly did not bother to brake, letting it glide towards the fire door until its rail bumped the dirty yellow wall and G, who had forgotten his book, facing the wall.

He longed to be walking, competent, jaunty like the doctor who showed him his sonogram, the bulge pressing his bladder. "Mr. G, you're not pregnant are you!" she exclaimed and he forced himself to laugh, but could find no riposte.

G's relief from his bodily and his general malaise was television and sleep. He began to find visits from friends oppressive, for they brought him back from stupor. He awoke at 2:00 AM to Hiram's voice. "Oh, Mama, MAMA." He awoke at 4:00AM, partially conscious of sounds of curtains, gurneys, bodies moving near him.

The nurse who couldn't exonerate G for his failed enema told G, "Oh him, he died."

For the rest of his stay G had the suite to himself. The pain in his intestine remained, but his temperature lowered, the internal symptoms, according to his specialist, ameliorated. Surgery would not be required. G felt forgiven by the hospital, but as he thought about his exoneration he realized that the hospital wouldn't have done it, it had to be something else.