Bandanas and October Supplies by M. Dylan Raskin
This is a very strange and very sad book. Strange, in that it’s dreamlike in its non-linear structure. Sad, in that it’s basically a memoir of Raskin’s mother, who died of (an unspecified in the book) cancer.
Even in her, and Dylan’s, distress, there was no relief or escape from The Stupid:
I got cut off by some pain in my ass knocking on the door. There was always some pain in the ass knocking on the door in that place [Franklin Hospital Medical Center]. Ten million times a day. Even at night. At night they’d knock on the door and wake you up to ask whether or not you were sleeping. They’d actually ask you if you were sleeping. And if you didn’t answer, they’d ask again, only louder. I don’t understand hospital people. They go to school for fifty years, and they wind up waking you up by asking whether or not you’re sleeping. It just doesn’t make any goddamn sense to me. I’m starting to think the more years you spend in school, the dumber you end up.
Before I even had the chance to ask who it was, to say stay the hell out because my mom was sleeping, the door opened. That’s another thing that hospital people always do. They always knock but don’t wait for an answer. [pgs. 108-109]
What follows is an incredible exchange with a hostile, loudmouthed, no-mannered smug beast Raskin tells us has the name of Cleopatra Thomas. (Of course I’ll repeat her name here.) This while his mother is debilitated and asleep in a hospital bed.
Although most of the book revolves around Dylan’s relationship with his mother, and her final days, there are still chances for Raskin to comment on outside life. Such as his search for a copy of The Loser’s Club by Richard Perez:
The fiction section [of the bookstore] was lousy with mass-market paperbacks and all sorts of mainstream, safe, uninspired books. You couldn’t find a single book in that place that took any sort of a risk. I like a book that takes at least some risk, for God’s sake. I’m not saying it should be a goddamn exposition fair, but it should at least be distinguishable from what the masses are reading. The masses don’t read anything worth a damn.[pgs. 55-56]
Dylan makes the mistake of describing the book:
“It’s about a writer who can’t get published. Do you special–“
“Isn’t that the whole point of writing, though?” she said. “If you can’t get published can you really call yourself a writer?”
I wasn’t surprised that a spoiled suburban socialite like her had said that. I replied that, in my opinion, some of the world’s best writers are unpublished writers, and that if a poor bastard has just spent the last nine months of his life holed up in a closet in front of a typewriter, hating every second of it, and for reasons that aren’t fully recognizable even to him, he plans to do it all over again, then he’s earned the right to be called a writer, whether or not he has the wherewithal to get published. I told her that the only difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer is that the published writer will forever walk around without pants on, and will, in most cases, die a very poor, unhappy, unfulfilled son of a bitch with ten-cent royalty checks protruding from his coffin. Other than that, I said, there isn’t a goddamn diference between the two. [pgs. 57-58]
Dylan also has a run-in with the “justice system” in New York. He has to go to criminal court for the charge of illegally riding his bicycle on a city sidewalk!
“Look, mister, I wasn’t there, so don’t tell me what there was and what there wasn’t. The fine will be fifty dollars,” he [the judge] said very nonchalantly.
“Fifty dollars?” I said. “Judge, I’ve been riding my bike on the same street since I was a kid. Since when is it a crime to ride your bicycle on the–“
“You just said it, Mr. Raskin. It is a crime, and perhaps if you paid more attention to the laws of the city you live in you’d know this.”
“Well I won’t be living in this city for very much longer,” I sort of mumbled. “And neither will the rest of you.”
The judge put his glasses on and moved some paperwork around.
“Excuse me, Mr. Raskin?”
“I believe that it’s only a matter of time, Your Honor, before a nuclear device explodes in this city and kills millions of people. And if you don’t believe–“
“You’ve got some smart mouth, young man,” he said. He took his glasses off and started looking at me as if he might jump over the bench and strangle me. “I won’t allow you to say those kinds of things in this court. Am I making myself clear? What a horrible thing to say. Just horrible.” [pgs.88-89]
(Unfortunately, Raskin does not reveal the name of the smug, imperious judge.)
Raskin is, of course, wide awake. Given that, pre-9/11, our (oh, this is murdering the next word!) intelligence agencies acted with as much competency as Nokia — and I believe they still do! — it’s inevitable that New York City will become toast. (I just want to live one minute longer than everybody else. Long enough for a final gloat and croaking death-rattle laugh before falling to the ground with my middle finger raised skyward! But if I can’t do that, then let me be in sunny California or drizzly England when it happens.)
Dylan’s usual obsessions are here too: fleece, bandanas, and October. He’s also added a puzzling one: British slang. The book is filled with it. For anyone new to his work, the slang might seem confusing. Although I didn’t mention it in my post about his first book, Dylan longs to meet a cargo-pants-wearing British woman who will match and challenge his intelligence. (Ah, Diana Rigg, you were born too early!)
With this, his second book, it seems to me that Raskin is at a crossroads. Can he do a third one? What else is there for him to mine in his young life? Any intelligent publisher would front him the money for a trip to England to search for his ideal lass. I hope that happens!
Like his first book, this one also brings to mind a song by Morrissey: My Life Is An Endless Succession Of People Saying Goodbye. Dylan’s father died when he, Dylan, was young. Dylan’s dog had to be euthanized. And now his mother is gone too.
[Excerpts Copyright © 2006 M. Dylan Raskin. Excerpts used without explicit permission under the Fair Use provisions of Copyright law. CopyNazis can go fuck themselves.]