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Tough Crowd

Go away. I donít want you here today. Instead, why donít you check out the adult insert? Or watch TV like everyone else for a changeóisnít it almost time for Who Wants to Watch a Millionaire Eat a Bug? Honestly, thereíve got to be 15 different things youíre putting off right now; go do three of them. Seriously, beat it. Come back in a couple of weeks.

I want to be left alone.

Itís nothing personal. I mean, itís nothing youíve done, specifically. I donít even know who most of you are, so donít feel singled out for criticism. It isnít any one of you, itís all of you collectivelyóitís you as audience. Itís you as the Imagined Readership. I donít want to have to consider you today.

Well, then, take the week off, you suggest. Itís not like we broke in and held you at knife point, demanding another installment on threat of grievous bodily harm. Do what you want, you self-aggrandizing, solipsistic twerp. Write the thing, donít write the thingóitís no skin off our backs. This ainít Misery. Weíre not going to hobble you if you write something that displeases us. And what makes you think that you havenít already displeased us? If you want to know the brutal truth, weíve always thought you a bit of a flake anyway. So, write it as haiku, write it in Arabic or pig Latin, holler it out the window, pull a Tristram Shandy and publish a handful of squiggly lines meant to illustrate the passing motions of your typing fingersówhatever you do, itís not gonna change our order at the drive-thru window, if you get our point.

Yeah, I get your point. I know you donít hang on these words. I know itís not that important to you. I know that itís a provocative diversion, at its best; and an impertinent trifle, an annoying open-ended question, when not quite up to that level. And, in some ways, Iím glad for that insignificance. Really, this isnít brain surgeryóand, thank god. At even my most delusional, I aspire to tinker with your inner workings in a mostly metaphorical way, using an indirect approach via your emotions. I suspect thatís true of mostóto use an only convenient descriptorócreative types. Thatís why we pick up the pen (or the palette or the Gibson Flying V, or whatever) as opposed to, say, the rib-spreader.

To steal a line, I am trying to break your heart. I mean, Ióin league with all the other writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, et al.óam trying to seduce you, the imagined audience, the way someone once (more than that, actually, many more times) seduced me: the way Somerset Maugham, Frida Kahlo, Herman Melville, Wim Wenders, Rosser Reeves, Richard Buckner, Emily Dickenson, Egon Schiele, Vic Chesnutt, Milan Kundera, Lisa Germano, Jean-Michel Basquiat, both Fitzgeralds, Alice Neel, Harold Brodky, FranÁois Truffaut, William Irwin, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Anne Sexton, Chris Ware, Frederic Tuten, Jan Vermeer, Zadie Smith, Aristide Maillol and a thousand others seduced me.

And, frankly, sometimes its gets to be a bit of a bore.

Sometimes, I donít care if youíre coming over, I want to leave the dishes in the sink and greet you in my underpants. Youíve got a problem with that? Well, where do you think I keep the dishwashing liquid, brainiac? What are you standing there staring at me for? Check under the sink; you can see I donít have it on meóIím not wearing any damn pants. And skip the oh-so-clever witticism, because Iíve already told you that itís under the sink and, as it happens, Iím not all that happy to see you.

Yeah, sometimes courting you seems a chore.

Because I imagine you as similar to meóonly better. Youíre smarter, better-read than I, and more worldly. Youíre a deeper thinker and more logical. Youíre both imaginative and disciplined. Youíre probably multilingual. You never had any problem understanding the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, and you only had to look up ontological and teleological once each, then never again. Youíre conversant in the foundational myths of half-a-dozen cultures, and you take pleasure discussing theoretical innovations in the field of pure mathematics. You really understand the workings of the Federal Reserve and you are familiar with the details of the Teapot Dome Scandal. You speak confidently about the work of both Terry Riley and Terry Gilliam. Youíre a graceful dance partner and a better-than-average dart player. You have a pleasant singing voice and absolutely no interest in public recognition.

The imagined you is, therefore, difficult to impressómuch less seduce. And yet I feel obliged, driven, to attempt it nonetheless, to try to win over, to woo, this vague amalgam of all the best qualities of my even-possible readership. Because I have imagined it as the audienceóthe ur-audienceóthat has conferred greatness on all the successful seducers of the past, and I want deeply to join their ranks.

Today, though, my cravenly needy artistic Don Juanism annoys me. Today, I want to be ugly and uncouth. Today, I want to tell the imagined youóthe imagined you whom I could never fool myself into thinking too stupid or unsophisticated to ďgetĒ me, the imagined you on whom I canít turn the tables and dismiss, the imagined you who is so frustratingly authoritativeóto go to hell.

Today, I want to drive you away. Today, I want to slurp the soup straight from the tureen, and wipe my mouth on the tablecloth. Today, I want to goose the maid, and play footsie with your dour aunt. Today, in the words of another great seducer, I want to be ďwicked rather than virtuous out of conformity or fear.Ē

But if you do stick around and you find that you enjoy it, feel free to applaud. I wonít bow, Iím too proud. But backstage, despite myself, Iíll probably smile.

óJohn Rodat


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