My girlfriend and I have recently booked an all-inclusive vacation package to the Realm of Hyperliteracy.
She’s 47 – hardly a girl – but she is not, strictly speaking, my partner because we do not cohabitate, and certainly the descriptor paramour stresses too much the sexual component, which though important, is not the central focus of our relationship.
I wish I could call her my fiancée, but the truth of the matter is that she is a widow twelve years my senior, and remarrying would not be financially prudent because of certain stipulations in her insanely possessive late husband’s will.
Perhaps, in the Realm of Hyperliteracy, I shall discover the perfect word to describe an exclusive sexual partner with whom one does not reside. In this case, one envies the German language’s facility to create multiple compounds. In German, one can have a steadysexmatewhodwellsapart, but in contemporary American English, one is stuck with inaccuracies like “girlfriend,” or worse, vulgarities like “main squeeze.”
As you may know, the Realm of Hyperliteracy is the brainchild of Sir Oglethorpe FitzSybil, who in the foothills of the Austrian Alps has established the perfect vacation spot for extroverted bibliophiles who crave conversational partners who express themselves precisely, men and women who recognize that singular antecedents demand singular pronouns, men and women with whom one can communicate without fear of their not knowing the definition of agitprop or schadenfreude, men and women who have read Flaubert’s Salammbô as well as his Madame Bovary.
In short, men and women who find the splitting of infinitives infinitely irritating.
The brochures have made it exceedingly clear that each visitor has been carefully screened – and endured a comprehensive exam – to insure that he (forgive the colloquialism) passes muster.
Felicity (not her real name) is taking me to Realm of Hyperliteracy to celebrate my thirty-fifth birthday. As you remember, it was exactly at three-score-and-five that Dante Alighieri awakened in that dark wood and began his journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise. Although rarely celebrated as a significant birthday in the States — one never hears “Sakes, sakes alive/ Reginald is turning thirty-five” — one could argue that since it’s half of the biblical allotment of seventy years, the thirty-fifth anniversary of one’s nativity is truly a momentous milestone.
I’ve decided in the tradition of Boswell and Johnson to keep a journal of my travels so that in my later years I can recall accurately the events. Photographic equipment of all types, even cellular telephones, is strictly forbidden. Visitors are limited to one carry-on sized bag. When one books, he provides his measurements, and the wardrobes of rooms are stocked with clothing that patrons are required to wear during their stay. Need I mention that computers are verboten as well?
I wish I could say that our grand launch is going smoothly, but alas, that would be a prevarication. The passage through security was especially vexing because I had not been informed that the TSA had relaxed their security guidelines; therefore, I had unnecessarily segregated my liquids into plastic bags, and when I began removing my belt and shoes, a very unpleasant man in a uniform who was a dead ringer for Oskar Dirlewanger growled menacingly at me. He projected a heightened sense of expediency, which turned out to be completely unnecessary because we ended up sitting in the plane for a seeming eternity before our taking off.
More vexing is– I use the appellation loosely – the gentleman sitting to my left (I have ceded the window seat to Felicity). Before I feigned a nap, this contemporary Kowalski jabbered non-stop for hours detailing his numerous trips abroad, a monologue rife with indelicacies of phraseology. No, I have never visited a “tittie bar” in Amsterdam nor “had me a wheat beer in Dusseldorf.” If I had a Euro for every time he has punctuated his sentences with “you know,” I could have flown first class instead.
Even more vexing still, I’ve made the mistake of sharing with Felicity the introduction reproduced above, and she erroneously argues that the verb in the second sentence of the last paragraph should be are instead of is, i.e., the sentence should read, according to her, “Photographic equipment of all types, even cellular telephones, are strictly forbidden.” Despite that “equipment” is obviously the subject — no one says the “the equipment are in working order“– she argues that the aggregate of plurals after the subject, “types” and “telephones,” supersedes the singular subject and poetic license demands the less sonically jarring plural “are.”
“But I am not a poet,” I said somewhat hotly.
Unfortunately, she kept on, and I regrettably ejaculated in frustration the interjection “balderdash” at which she turned her head to the window and cried herself to sleep.
As I record these words in my journal, the gentleman to my left is snoring like a draft horse.
Perhaps, it is the jet lag or a hangover from the malodorous mood of the flight over, but I find the gated grounds and cluster of buildings of the Realm of Hyperliteracy to be less grand than the photographs of the brochures suggested. “Potemkin village” is perhaps hyperbolic in its censure; however, there is something, let us say, Disneyesque about the ersatz bricks that form the manor’s façade.
Furthermore, even though the hotel boasts fifty rooms, very few people – a mere nine, including yours truly and his companion – are staying here. Except for a young bohemian, whose profusion of tattoos would be the envy of Flannery O’Connor’s O.E. Parker and the bohemian’s paramour, a gum-smacker who looks as if she selected the shade of blue of her dyed hair from a Sherwin-Williams paint palette, the rest of the hotel patrons have reached, at the very least, their eighth decade.
It’s as if they’ve been bused in from that depressing poem of Philip Larkin’s.
Furthermore, we’re not allowed to leave the grounds, meaning that all meals must be taken at the hotel.
However, there is something about which to look forward. During the evening cocktail party – attendance mandatory – they’re going to stock our closets with clothes, now that the one or two outfits we packed in our carry-ons have been, shall we say, exhausted.
Well, we’re off to the cocktail party. I shan’t go into the so-called “make-up sex” Felicity and I facilitated, but let us merely convey that it was very satisfactory.
|What hours, O what black hoürs we have spent|
|This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!|
I fear that anyone reading my depiction in this journal of the events of last night will dismiss them as the ravings of a madman or consider them the product of some gothic fiction writer’s over-stimulated imagination, some imitator of Poe’s lurid attempt to out-Monk-Lewis Monk Lewis.
It began with the cocktail party, hosted by none other than Oglethorpe himself. He looks as if he’s stepped right out of, as they say, central casting, a pudgier cross between Christopher Lee and Basil Rathbone; in other words, he’s tall with slicked-back hair, a patrician English accent, and a hawkish nose.
One of the lamentable aspects of extreme old age is that the process seems to efface the individuality of its victim. I could hardly distinguish the two women and the two men from each another. They, to-a-thing, each had white hair, or some white hair and age-spotted scalps, wrinkled faces, necks, hands. Even more vexing, they all were as deaf as cinder blocks. Indeed, I couldn’t believe they had passed the perquisite exam that lies at the heart of Realm of Hyperliteracy’s application process. The multiple-choice section was exhaustive and the free response essay questions ridiculously esoteric.
So Felicity and I found ourselves forced to chat with the Bohemian and his consort who claim their names are Ataturk and Absinthe, obvious noms-de-guerre.
Both also claim to be on a tenure track at NYU. In their speech, they attempt to approximate the patois of the so-called Beat Poets, whom they revere. In other words, they consider themselves “hep cats” who find “strict grammatical formalism a mere product of class bias,” and when I admitted that I could not share his and her enthusiasm for Ginsberg and his ilk, Absinthe traced in the air with her fingers the geometric outline of a square.
After a couple of watery scotches, Oglethorpe instructed that we return to our rooms and dress for dinner.
Indeed, the closets had been stocked, and indeed the garments fit well – my tuxedo was Orlon but sufficiently tailored – but whoever provided our attire had failed to provide undergarments, and when Felicity went to retrieve a brassiere and the lower undergarment from the bag she had packed, we discovered a note on the dresser informing our clothes have been removed to the laundry.
Every single gown was diaphanous, as sheer as a provocative negligee, and I prayed to that non-presence that Emily Dickinson described in her first letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson as “a vacancy” that the two crones with whom we must dine that evening had been provided with less revealing attire.
Of course, not attending dinner was not an option. As soon as the bell chimed to come downstairs, the listening devices I had not noticed turned into speakers blasting Barry Manilow at ear-piercing decibels.
But, no, the crones, they too! They too were dressed diaphanously!
When we gathered at the table, I glanced at the female octogenarians the way one feels impelled to glance at highway carnage but quickly glanced away. Suddenly, for the first time I could truly appreciate the “Wife of Bath’s Tale.” On the other hand, there were Felicity and Absinthe, leaving not nearly enough to the imagination. It occurred to me that younger women did enjoy certain advantages that age had robbed their older sisters of. [Note to self, recast sentence without offending ending preposition].
I was seated next to Ataturk, who winked at me and said, “Oglethorpe” with the initial O vowel shortened to an “ah”
“Ogle – Thorpe. O-g-l-e-thorpe.”
I felt like a fool for not thinking of it myself.
I’ve always preferred Henry James to Hemingway, but I’m finding that the latter’s stripped down style might be preferable here for the sake of journalistic expediency. I have clandestinely composed these notes in the wee hours. I must manage to get to sleep. After breakfast there’s a reading . . .
An all day reading in German of Kafka’s The Kastle with surtitles projected in English on a sheet hung from the ceiling.
I’m at the end of my rope. Rope! A rope, my kingdom for a rope! Certainly, Solzhenitsyn could not have endured this! That hook-nosed son-of-a-bitch! I’m gonna kills his ass. None of the maids speak English. There’s gotta be a way out. Tunneling? Maybe Ataturk will join my cabal, a cabal of two, tea for two, and two for tea.
Ata sez the gates are electrificated. Saw a bird fly into it and get fried. Felicity has abandoned me and sleeps now with Oglethorpe. Same deal with Abby and Ata. The old folks have died off, one a day. Ata sez we be good as dead. No way we getting outta here to write reviews of this horrorshow holiday.
A carrier pigeon has landed on the sill of my barred window. Is it a vision or a waking dream?