Doug Sits Alone in a Spotlight

“This is not a story about the Jews, the Irish, or the Italians.  No movie deals here.  Nor is it about the breakup of a marriage or the perfect crime.  It is not about growing up or getting laid or going to school or doing drugs.  Tonight I give you three men: Kosinski, Duke, and me.  We share only one thing in common: emotional language. We learned our words on different planets, yet the movement of our lips and hands are the same.  We’re like silence, the surface of the sea, or stealing bibles and you can hear us if you listen, you can see us if you open your eyes.  Chance is our heart and we have built empires upon the philosophy that terrible decisions at noon become great ones by midnight.  But there’s the flip side as well.  Great moves can turn bad, even evil.  The balance is delicate.  The current is thin.  Ask any parent or hangman.  Surely there is something beyond the push and pull of fate.  We are more than animals, more than spinning wheels.  Perhaps it begins with the dream and ends with personal choice.  Our emotional language is born in dreams, both waking and sleeping and surely there is no difference. You only need listen and see to understand and so my story starts with Kosinski’s bag and how I make choices while I dream.

Many people have stopped dreaming.  They live exclusively in three-dimensional boxes.  Maybe you’re one, but that’s a chance I’ll take.  Here’s the bag.  It talks to me.  Listen.”

I wrote a one-man show a few years ago.  The title was “Kosinski’s Bag”.  It was performed in rehearsal at the Pan Asian Theater, just down the street from my old hangout at the Show World.  Over time I added characters and it became a three act play.  It opened at Sara Lawrence College and I heard it was a piece of shit.  I don’t know, because I never saw it.  I wrote the play with an old buddy who was the main character.  When it was finally produced, he took my name off the billing and that ended our friendship. The same thing happened with a screenplay I wrote titled “The Millennium”.  Five plot points ended up in something called the “Seventh Sign”.  Somebody lifted part of the story.  It got a 17% on the Tomatometer.  I guess the point is whatever I write is generally bad and people don’t much appreciate it.  Do I care?  Not really.  Writing is a lot like breathing for me.  I’ll stop writing when I stop breathing and I don’t worry too much about my breathing, at least for the present.

I changed my writing room to a different part of the house. The front was too noisy.  Trucks drove down my throat and out my ass, but the new room also has acoustic issues.  It is covered with ceramic tile.  Floor, ceiling, and walls are all cold and shiny. When I talk to myself, which is constant, the echo hurts my ears.  Skilled doctors and qualified nurses used to perform plastic surgeries on mostly older women and criminals in this room.  People still ring my bell asking for Dr. Monlavy.  I tell them he died in a chemical fire.  The women wanted a new life, whereas the criminals wanted the same life, but in a disguised form.  The face is key for many people.  I am waiting for the day when they will simply attach a different head to your body, so needy people will get a new face, plus ears, tongue, teeth, hair, eyes, and brain.  At that point good-looking, smart people will need to watch their backs.

I placed old photos upon my new walls.  There was my friend who I partnered with on the one-man show.  He married a former girlfriend of mine.  A framed picture of a destroyed bridge across a river in the Congo takes a prominent spot.  An unimportant incident, yet I have framed it as if it were vital.  Why do little things haunt us?  The same can be said of me and the clown.  His face was painted red.  A large print of doomed children marching across Africa went up, all of them too young to die, but that’s just something we say, since the young are the most likely to die.

I put up two black and white photos side-by-side on the ceramic wall.  One was the photo of a painting, while the other was a photo of a prostitute.  They were both close-ups of faces covered in shadows. The painting was done by a 17-year old artist who paints like Picasso, while the photo was taken by a heroin addict who died from a hot-shot.  I don’t know what happened to the 17-year old.  I was friends with both of them, but since they didn’t know each other, the only things that join us together are the two dark, worried faces upon my wall.

The two images are of young transgender women and they tell me that forty years of art by two different people, will sometimes produce exactly the same results.  I wonder if the subjects in these artistic studies are dead.  Probably, since 40% of all transgenders commit suicide before they are thirty.

Too young…yes, we are all too young to die.

I have allowed you into my dream through my emotional language.  Can you see the choices I made all those years ago?  “Who are you” he asked.  “Floater,” I answered and I chose to keep him out of my dream and so I went down to the river for a swim with the women beating clothes upon the rocks and there was Maria waiting in the sun.

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12 thoughts on “Doug Sits Alone in a Spotlight

    1. Yes, our bad writing is painful, but the good writing is unexpected and hopeful, if I can use such a word in these times. The key, for me anyway, is to write something different, but as Aaron points out, that is hard, particularly if one forgets past scribbling.

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  1. Love your writing Duke. Your thought process astounds me and often I have to pause as I read and let the words, the images, settle before I can go on.

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  2. I feel like this is from LADWDs, with some revision. Kosinski’s Painted Bird became his albatross, and then it was a bag on his head, a warm bath and some pills. Emotional language reminds me of Italian movie directors and young French poets with habits. They live with their eyes in their hearts. You don’t write about ethnic communities or huffing glue in bus station bathrooms, but your eyes are in your heart, and cathartic heights are reached.

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    1. Hi Aaron,

      No this is new stuff and the quote is from “Kosinski’s Bag” from ten years ago. I think what has happened is we are so familiar with each other’s writing, that it is hard to discern something new. On the other hand some of our themes and word usage has not changed much over the years and some of the ideas we had in print ten or twenty years ago color our present writing. We are sort of plagiarizing ourselves without knowing it. “What a brilliant idea!” Yes, you had it twenty years ago. Thanks. Duke

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      1. I’ve started back on Flipka and I’m shocked. Sometimes it’s not that bad and sometimes it’s so ugh. I’ve definitely learned to identify my own bad writing over the years…. I think taking chances on Tinhats has been the key.

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  3. Hello Tin Hat. Your title alone made me want to dig up aluminum foil antennae. You don’t need to be told this, but sometimes truth is sweeter from a stranger: plagiarism is high flattery. Too bad the pay is so bad. Also writing something wonderful we forgot we’ve already written is as good as re-reading a book loved and forgotten and loved again. Yes, we’re all too young to die, but since we’re all going to die, who cares if we repeat our best? Cheers (visiting from JT Twissel) —

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    1. Hi JBmore,

      You win WP comment of the week with your interesting insight into writer’s mess. I see you have taken a stand on plastics. Good for you and I hope you are making a difference. There was one line in “The Graduate” which always seemed creepily prophetic: “Just one word, Ben…are you listening…plastics.” Fucking hell, the world is drowning in the stuff. Mexico is one of the worst offenders, but I’m hoping AMLO is going to make a difference. I’m a sucker for hope in politics, ascribing good intentions to people who will probably do nothing. You are right, we are all going to die regardless of how we live. Okay, take it easy. Thanks. Duke

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      1. Oh yes, That line from The Graduate. I remember from watching it recently though — in the years since the first viewing I forgot it. I tried at one point to see if the director or the author of the original book came up with that line.

        On plastic: There’s something insane in me that insists we are supposed to Do Something. That might make a good blog title. “Something. Anything.” Try as we ancient ones might though, I believe the Ice Nine that breaks our plastic trance will crystalize in brighter minds than mine. Cheers —

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  4. Hey, Duke, I am hoping this will actually print my comments. You know I admire your writing, but this opening, being a former Hollyweird brat, grabbed me like no other. Your sardonic humor cuts to the chase, for me, in fact, that whole first paragraph knocks me out. I mean, “The balance is delicate. The current is thin. As any parent or hangman.” Who comes up with that? Only Duke Miller. That is what makes your writing special.

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