The Traymore Rooms
Quebec, America and Rome
Book I of The Traymore Rooms – Against Chronology
Now Edward Sanders, aka Fast Eddy, hatless in winter, beetle-browed and barrel-chested, shows up in the Blue Danube, the left side of his face inflamed. He is not happy; deep-set eyes accuse. Silent, he joins us at our table. A round of greetings. He raises his hand to check our effusions. He will make the most of this moment, encased in layers of sweatshirts, nylon coat, baggy denims. His pale blue eyes flirt with woe and misery. His eyes are absolutes, so complete is his revulsion for all accidents of time and space, he claiming a sparrow flew into his mug. Well, how? He was turning a corner at the back of his duplex just as a bird endeavoured to do the same, its flight path minimizing the possibilities of attack from predators. Chicago school of physics: two solid objects cannot, at one and the same time, inhabit the same space, unless one was to speak of hand-to-hand combat or acts of passion.
Eggy, old and decrepit, snorts, octogenarian bravado and envy asserting: ‘She must’ve squeezed too hard.’ Yes, there it is, what explains Fast Eddy’s wounded pride. But his love of Moonface is pure, as the girl is a noble creature, she our waitress. Eggy’s hand begins its journey to his glass. Eventually, the glass secured, wine is consumed. And the world, like Fast Eddy, might have cause to complain of what has been seemingly inadvertent, all the world gobsmacked by phantom dominion. ‘Oh well,’ says Eggy, ‘just trying to cheer you up. Effing hell.’ The old man would sow the wild oats he had failed to sow, his Ebenezer, willie, Priapus now inert. One day, perhaps, Fast Eddy may declare to Moonface his love of her, and she grant him the justice of his argument; and she reward him with some tender ministration, her smile daffy. Fast Eddy blinks, frowns and suffers. He might have to see a doctor, his left ear shiny red, grown enormous.
I have been a Traymorean for some time. Congratulations are in order, I think. It is to say I reside in the Traymore Rooms – along with Eggy, Moonface, Dubois and Eleanor R, Mrs Petrova our live-in landlady – and they have not yet turfed me into the street. What has been more spectacular than spectacular failure, than the truths that did not quite endure, than the lies that all too often succeeded? In any case, snow is falling. It settles on fur hats and tuques and caps. Wind drives it against scarved shoulders. I observe what, beyond the cold café window, has all the attributes of a dream: the afternoon commute, its sounds muffled.
Fast Eddy’s misery notwithstanding, I am deep in my own thought-world, history as ineffable an item as consciousness explained by a specialist. What about Josephus the Jew, his Roman monicker Titus Flavius Josephus? What, you were expecting a seminar? But say that at a time of weak political control in the American West, a man like Buffalo Bill Cody could pretty well do as he wished, polite society be damned. Could hunt. Go on benders. Meditate on mass and energy. Could scalp a Sioux brave and make theatre of it while some writer inflates his reputation with exaggerated accounts of derring-do, titillating the fantasies of the well-heeled of the east. Enough. Dubois, his blue eyes glittering, abstracted himself, hears my inaudible sigh. ‘There you go again,’ he says, ‘you’re somewhere else.’
Of the three wine bottles on the table, two are empty, one half full. Moonface brings a customer at another table, some leather-jacketed Slav, his beer. His eyes evince mild contempt for us who have no idea of what the real world is and how it works. Moonface wears a dark chemise under her coarse white shirt, her eyes anxious. She had an attack of some sort earlier in the day, a fit, if you must know. She rubs her forehead where it collided with the loveseat in her apartment. More physics. And the snow keeps coming down, passersby bent to the wind. Homer’s falling leaves signified the mutability of the lot of humankind. Dubois gives me a look, one that suggests there is no hope for me. Eggy, raising an admonitory finger, points out, ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain. There’s poetry for you.’ Moonface, pressing her hips against the edge of our table, gives me a look of comprehending sympathy. She believes she knows what an orphan poetry is. What colour are her eyes, today? Two pools of rainwater set in weathered marble. Fast Eddy still frowns, still suffers. I do not have the heart to rag him as Eggy had; instead, I ask, ‘So how did the bird fare?’ ‘Hoo hoo,’ Eggy chimes. Fast Eddy glares. Then to Dubois I say, ‘The first crossbow was most likely a Chinese invention.’ He is incredulous: ‘Are you serious?’ Moonface rolls her eyes up and to the side, a characteristic gesture, she a chameleon. She is, one minute, appealing. She is, in another minute, sullen, feckless, perplexed by the fact that she, both a waitress and a Latin scholar, has the power to charm a special category of men – half-baked intellectuals of an uncommon type, her jeans skin-tight, her soft boots streaked with salt. Eggy’s squint-gaze is all over her and she surely knows it, now proud, now self-conscious, Eggy such a horror, at times. And when I suggest that I knew Buffalo Bill’s great-granddaughter, Eggy interjects: ‘Why, did she squeeze too hard, too?’ ‘Well,’ I answer, ‘she was intense.’ Dubois who, in his youth, hung around with Chrétien, the last prime minister but one, asks, ‘What has this got to do with anything?’ Dubois knows his politics; but regarding life on the American plains, he is in over his head: all that nasty and brutish stuff of conquering space one Indian and buffalo at a time. ‘The rain in Spain,’ says Eggy, this West Virginia-born homunculus who seems to have been everywhere, sparrow of a man.
Well, patience. You will get to know, in time, so far
as any of us can ever know anyone, these Traymoreans, as well as Fast
Eddy. You will learn how I came to discover the true colour of Moonface’s
eyes. There are the pseudo-Traymoreans the Lamonts and Osgoode. You will
hear of Marjerie Prentiss, she and her Cleopatra bangs and knobbly toes
and militant free will. You may sample, if you wish, a spate of my correspondence.
How I deferred to Gareth Howard’s moral authority even as I joshed
him, the quality of my pessimism dubious. How I flirted with Vera Klopstock,
she a rich and bright, amiable predator otherwise married. How I had nothing
to say, really, to Minnie Dreier. How I gave Bly the gears, he who had
the cloven hooves of a public intellectual. How I would, now and then,
post letters to a dead man. How there was Echo, and how she faded. You
will come across bells and whistles such as my notebooks spawned, eccentric
turns of mind that conform to no rational purpose, none that will rid
the world of what ails it or retrieve the natural order from extinction.
What, in any case, is the natural order? Moonface may or may not throw
light on the matter. I will invoke the spirit of Sally McCabe, pompomming
cheerleader of my high school days who, in her spirit-guise, was, on occasion,
a critic. ‘Structure? Chronology? Subject matter? Didn’t you
learn anything?’ She will dock me points for my latter-day Neo-Platonism,
one all too often hung-over. She will tickle my chin as I make mention
of the screed of Eunapius of Sardis against chronology, yes, as if Socrates
were only wise in the dry season. And were I to say ‘Iraq and quagmire’,
she would answer, ‘You expect me to explain why?’ Evening,
and in the upper-storey hall of the Traymore Rooms where a window looks
out on brick edifices, leafless maples and back lanes, I will watch the
new snow coat stale deposits of the same banked against fences, each drift
now a new-minted sculpture, a white dune. I am caustic in regards to the
notion that America is always able to reinvent herself. ‘Out of
what?’ I ask. Hopes and dreams, as ever, for which someone will
pay. I console myself Montreal is an old city, older than most cities
on this continent. I trust nothing new.
A Bit of Academe
The Common word for these figures was oscilla, and the fact of their swinging in the wind suggested a verb oscillare, which survives in our tongue with the same meaning.
But here we must leave a question which is still unsolved. All we can say is that the old idea of substitutes for human sacrifice must be finally given up, and the oscilla, whether or not they were substitutes for human swingers, were probably charms intended to ward off evil influences from the crops.
from “The Religious Experience of the Roman People” –
Lectures for 1909-10