Thursday the 17th, a week before Thanksgiving. I was drinking in the campus bar, waiting for a guy who was possibly going to stop by and listen to me talk about Paradise Lost. He had a paper due shortly, was a faithful Catholic with a genuine interest in this great work (for some reason this was endearing to me), and I felt like drinking, so I left him a message to meet me and ordered a beer.
After about a half hour a decent looking girl sat down beside me and I struck up a conversation. She was eating a salad with her beer, from a plastic to-go box, and immediately struck me as snobbish in her lofty estimation of sociology–her major, of course. I found her convictions amusing, and her haughtiness and apparent contradictions funny (or in my loneliness and insecurity I told myself this), so I prolonged our talk with questions.
She told me about a paper she was racing to get written (they’re always racing) that seemed to interest her mildly. In it she was discussing the strange phenomena surrounding a certain “American Idol” (his first name was Clay, I believe, but that’s all I remember). I guess the fans of this particular idol had been and still were particularly rabid, despite the fact that he only placed runner-up in the competition. I asked her if there was anything peculiar about this idol that would provoke such zeal, and she replied that yes, he was a devout evangelical. As our conversation progressed, she also let out that he was, to all appearances (I believe the way she put it was “obviously”), gay, and had been numerously asked if this was the case–a question which he obviously answered negatively.
I asked her if she had considered whether this might be a complex case of sublimation. It seemed to me that the most passionate of these young fans must’ve been spurred on by a libidinal drive. – That they too must’ve felt bound to some desire which was irreconcilable with their morality, and they saw Clay as somehow affirmative of their plight. What puzzled me was, what precisely were they affirming in this plastic idol? Were they affirming what they believed he truly was (and thus their secret identities) in a disguised fashion, by supporting his golden voice? Or were they affirming his extraordinary capacity for repression and suppression of desire–his ability to still feel an intense devotion to Christ and the church, and even become an American Idol, despite his being compelled by depraved desires?
I asked her if any of this interested her–if she might use it. Given her personality, or mood, she was of course outwardly dismissive, although she was writing something down in her notebook. She said it was probably too big of an issue to handle, for a short paper, and given her time constraints, and the almost certain lack of quantitative evidence–. The idea of her scouring the internet “in support of her claim” made me inwardly laugh. The quantification of truth seemed to me, at that moment more than ever before, absurd and at last amusing. As I saw it, even if the drive for these little evangelicals wasn’t popularly in line with my “hypotheses,” certainly it was for some, or even one of them. Of course, each case would reveal its own idiosyncrasies, and for that matter, its unapproachable mysteries, but the Case nevertheless provides a study of some convoluted and, in my opinion, fascinating pathology.
I can only surmise that this girl never used too many of my insights, though I can’t say for sure; she left soon after I voiced them to her. As for my acquaintance, he did show up finally, and with the help of our discussion (and another discussion we had after I was released), and reference to a paper I’d written previously, he was able to turn in a paper on the conception and constitution of the “unholy trinity” of Satan, Sin, and Death in Paradise Lost. After he left I ended up drinking myself to oblivion, to the point of blacking out and well beyond it, and finally reached a state of shameful belligerence. Allegedly I swung wildly at the bouncer when he tried to remove me from the bar, and had to be dragged from there to a police car which was waiting to take me to jail.
Drunk as I was when I arrived in the tank, I immediately grabbed the toilet paper roll and hoarded it, knowing from experience that it would prove invaluable as a pillow once I was exhausted enough to sleep in the cold amongst the gloomy and pointless denunciations of my fellow deviants. Some indeterminable time later, lying with the side of my head upon my prized possession, I stared at the wall before me which had been smeared extravagantly, in spiraling patterns, with what looked like blood and mustard packets. “I could be worse,” I thought. “At least I’m not such a drunk as this pathetic little Pollock here.” And I pulled my arms back into my short sleeves, thrilling at the touch of my cold arms.
I’ve never been in jail long. This time it’d been – what, sixteen hours. Still, this time especially it seemed as though my release was like waking from a subterranean dream: There’s a pathway lined with rectangular lawns in front of Santa Rita Jail, and beyond that a roundabout for cars. Beyond the roundabout and across a road is a high embankment of fresh, cloddy soil, and fist-sized stones. And looking out from the top of that embankment you see a vast stretch of fallow land. The leafless maple branches were dark against the pale sky, and I pressed my palms down on the soft clods and noted the horizon: teal and cloud-drift and a day. A Day. And stepping on the bus I smiled at the bus-driver an ebullient smile: I could ask him to stop now and he would. He’d let me off right here.