Quite literally, unfortunately.
Even though I have thousands of books and have a “library” in my apartment that contains them, I am a frequent user of the public facility. There is something about acquiring books and/or reading ones I do not own already that makes them more fun. In this economy, I must steer clear of bookstores, lest I spend all my disposable income on whatever strikes my fancy. Therefore, off I traipse to the library during my lunch hour every three weeks to check out at least four books at a pop.
Reading is my usual pre-sleep activity, so over the weekend, whilst laying in bed, I cracked open one of my loaners—Bluebeard. I was struck by how warped and discolored all the pages were. Then, I caught a whiff. I put my face up to it, and immediately pulled it away. Just to make sure it wasn’t an olfactory hallucination, I repeated that action. I got up and brought it to my husband, and asked him, “Does this smell like urine?” One quick sniff test confirmed it.
Yes, someone took a piss on Vonnegut.
Into the nearest plastic bag that foul pulp went, and I couldn’t move fast enough to the bathroom, nor could the water get hot enough, to cleanse my hands à la Lady MacBeth. Out, damned stench! Being a bit germaphobic, I was apprehensive crawling back under the covers as I tried to recall if the defiled book touched any part of the bed. Since it was too late to strip and wash, I decided that ignorance is occasionally a blissfully acceptable approach to the situation. I just hoped that it was either cat or dog urine. Hell, I’d even be okay if a horse emptied its bladder in a torrential downpour onto the poor, unsuspecting novel. I just couldn’t countenance it being human. It seemed . . . grosser. Besides, who could hate Vonnegut that much?
What I didn’t realize in my effort to keep the diseases at bay until Labor Day weekend came to an end, is that enclosing the urine smell makes it stronger. My nostrils were assaulted with that reality once I pulled it out of my bag when I got to work. The funk was pervasive, and even after putting it into an envelope AND inside a paper bag, I still smelled it. I called the circulation desk to alert them of my dilemma. To say the clerk sounded dubious is an understatement, but he did not verbally call me on it. He did tell me to return it as soon as possible. I couldn’t wait for lunchtime to roll around so I could be rid of that egregious object so that I could move onto prose that would be less offensive to my senses. Perhaps something from de Sade?
Thankfully, I did not have to wait in line for assistance. Sadly, the guy I spoke to on the phone was the next available attendant. He was not happy to see me, and made a show of annoyance as he removed the envelope from the paper bag, the plastic bag from the envelope, and opened the plastic bag to confirm the horror. It was like an iniquitous nesting doll. He pulled back his head in disgust, and this was the conversation that ensued:
Me: “It wasn’t that bad before when my husband and I smelled it, but the bag encapsula . . .”
Clerk 1: “Remove this book from the system right away!”
Clerk 2: “Eww, what’s the number?”
Clerk 1: (Do you think I remembered the number during my moment of ignominy? Make up one.)
Me: “I can’t believe someone would return a book after peeing on it.”
Clerk 2: “Okay, it’s gone. Now just put it away!”
Me: “Thanks.” Exit in embarrassment stage left.
Clerk 1: “Have a nice day.”
Now, do you think he really meant that? It was pretty obvious from their responses (yes, in a fit of paranoia, I honed in on their micro-expressions) that they didn’t believe I was the innocent victim here. Perhaps it was that askance look he gave me as I explained the physics of entrapped odors and their affect on the strength of them. I was very tempted to officiously ask, “Do I look like someone who would take a piss on a book, much less public property?” But, one way to detect that someone is lying is if she gets a bit too wordy. I thought that would be throwing me into the gray zone. I left fully confident that I introduced a little slice of Hell into their day.
I suspect when the remaining books are due, I will just deposit them in the overnight book drop, lest they flagged my account as a problem user. Oy. I think I’ll take a short vacation from checking out books, just long enough for them to forget my face.
Of all the writers this bibliophile has read and continues to discover, I rank Kurt Vonnegut in the upper echelon of literary geniuses. No one wrote caustic satire quite like him. While I don’t emulate him in my own work, or any author for that matter, a favorable comparison would be much welcomed, to say the least. Alas, if Dmitry Chestnykh is the arbiter of writing analysis, the probability of that happening is slim to none.
Mr. Chestnykh is a Russian computer programmer who created the site I Write Like. I don’t know if it is viable for academic study, or was created for just giggles. Perhaps when some established authors were tested and came up with others than themselves, the latter seemed to be the likely purpose. As an example, Moby Dick was more reminiscent of Stephen King than of, well, Herman Melville. I wonder if Mr. Melville looked more like King’s brother than . . . regardless, the algorithm could use some tweaking.
Here is the link, in case you want to participate in the same frustrating exercise I did—twenty-one times, to be precise. I just couldn’t resist the compulsion.
I took excerpts of my blog postings, short stories, and even a couple of e-mails. I was on a quest to identify my wordsmith doppelgänger and hoped for some affirmation of my writing skills, to boot. Yes, I was shooting for at least one Kurt Vonnegut comparison. Did Dmitry throw me that bone? Of course not. Hell, I would have been happy with Kilgore Trout, even. Here is a list of what I did get and how many times, ranked from extremely flattering to suicide-inducing:
- Vladimir Nabokov—1
- Stephen King—2
- David Foster Wallace—5
- H.P. Lovecraft—3
- Isaac Asimov—1
- Arthur Clark—1
- Ian Fleming—1
- Chuck Palahniuk—1
- Cory Doctorow—2
- Dan Brown—4
Take a guess when I considered going the route of one of those authors. What, too soon? Seriously though, how can I write like one of the most successful hacks in recent memory, but have yet to crack the “Code” of making even one red cent from my writings? ‘Tain’t fair! By the way, who the Hell is Cory Doctorow? (Admittedly, as a sci-fi fan, I should have known who he was.) I felt like I stumbled into the Malkovichian portal to my own mind, to find all the authors above at a Halloween party where I was the only costume left on the rack for them to buy. It was not a pretty visual, let me tell you. In the words of one of my alleged brothers-in-words, “oh, the unspeakable horror!”
At least I don’t write like Stephenie Meyer, with her damned eye-rolling, mumbling emo-pires (that’s another post entirely!). There’s that small blessing. To ensure that she was in the database or whatever the blazes is in that program, I put in an excerpt of her first book, Twilight, and there she was. Whew, I won’t fold up my laptop just yet.
As I mentioned earlier, I got no Vonnegut hits, even though I have read more works from him than any other author. You’d think he would rub off, even a little. Just to make sure he was on the site’s radar, I put in a sample text from his famous Slaughterhouse-Five.
“The Americans across the way told the guards again about the dead man on their car. The guards got a stretcher out of their own cozy car, opened the dead man’s car and went inside. The dead man’s car wasn’t crowded at all. There were just six live colonels in there—one dead one.
The Germans carried the corpse out. The corpse was Wild Bob. So it goes.”
There he was. I made it easy for myself and substituted key words and phrases in it to change the spirit while preserving the grammatical structure:
“The Canadians across the way told the penguins again about the dead seal on their igloo. The penguins got a glacier out of their own comfortable igloo, opened the dead seal’s igloo and went inside. The dead seal’s igloo wasn’t crowded at all. There were just six live bears in there—one dead one.
The Americans carried the corpse out. The corpse was Wild Bob. So it snows.”
David Foster Wallace! What the. . . ? This should have been a slam-dunk. If I can’t write like Kurt Vonnegut, at least he should be able to write like himself! Before I went all Dwayne Hoover from Breakfast of Champions on my computer, I had to apply a healthy dose of perspective along with the grain of salt. Really, how intuitive are these programs, or anything that claims to sum up one’s personality based on a few bytes of information? According to one of the plethora of Facebook surveys I was suckered into taking, my aura was orange. Orange? Puh! Mine is clearly purple. I dismiss that on principle. In this case, I separate the wheat from the chaff and paraphrase Bruce Lee: I extract what strokes my ego and discard what bitch-slaps it.
In conclusion, I am as masterful a writer as Vladimir Nabokov was. Woot woot!
Did I mention I haven’t read anything from Wallace, yet? He is on my list, but blast it, he is a laborious read. Apparently, I’m actually so brilliant, even I find it hard to understand myself.