Faulkner, Jung and the 60 Cycle Hum

by Rupert Fike

On a Monday night I’m sitting home reading Faulkner –
       a vague punishment the way some people don’t drink
on Mondays as a half-assed penance for getting so out-there
                   over the weekend,
and there’s this other, hovering part of me that’s admiring
     myself for traversing these side-slopes of literature,
not that the Faulkner is boring because he’s telling me
                  this story of Joe Christmas,
                  a Mississippi cracker whose secret is
     that he’s half-black even though he passes for white,
but it’s the thirties so he’s full of self-loathing
     tinged with the fear of discovery when terrible things
are sure to happen and do happen,
                                                         so, yeah, it’s a good yarn,
and the college radio station is going in the background
     because I have this vanity about staying “au courant”
with post-punk bands (although I would never
      say “au courant” to anyone with a piercing),
plus between songs you get to hear college undergrads
      with bad adenoids mangle words that anyone in college
should have at least mouthed by now,
                      like calling the Cocteau Twins,
                      the “Cock-a two twins”
meaning they’ve never even said the name, Jean Cocteau,
      so anyway as I’m feeling snugly virtuous watching
myself read Faulkner, the undergrad deejay says,
       “Okay, that last song was by the Athens band,
                        “Joe Christmas.”
Which makes me sit up and go, Whoa!
                        Synchronicity, what Jung said was never
        a coincidence, and maybe Jung should be my next
Monday punishment book, if, of course, I ever finish
       the Faulkner with its words, words, words
stretching across double pages with no paragraphs,
       dialogue, ellipses, gaps or anything but words,
and then I’m recalling what Jung said about neurosis,
        how it is the suffering of the soul
        which has yet to find its true meaning.
And maybe this is my neurosis: to imagine
      I have to read important books as a class of punishment,
while my interior smarty-pants struggles to come up
      with an exception to Jung’s definition, like, say,
Woody Allen whose neuroses “are” his soul’s true
       meaning, that is, they keep him completely busy, sane –
but the undergrad deejay interrupts my argument with:
       “Hey, I have two tickets to go see the Swans this weekend
for the first caller who can tell me, who just read the
       Cliff Notes last semester, from what great novel
does the character, Joe Christmas, come from?”
     This makes me snap the book shut, turn to Kathy
and say, “Hey, I just won two tickets to go see the Swans.”
      And she says, “That’s nice, but find somebody else
to go with you,”
      and as I walk to the phone I’m thinking,
      hmmm, maybe Jon, this younger friend of ours
who looks like Sting and attracts women who think
       they deserve beauty which usually makes
for an interesting time,
      and I’m not rushing to the phone
      because Synchronicity has spoken.
                                        It is meant to be,
                                        and it shall be served .
Plus there is not a chance anyone else will call in
      with the answer because this is the station that for months
ran a promo with a fakey old-man voice, going,
                          “Call me Ahab, but when I’m not out
                            chasing white whales, I listen to 88.5”
      And I had even called in twice to complain that,
Doh! The first sentence of Moby Dick is “Call me Ishmael”!
      Both times though they acted like I was a whack-job
so when the undergrad deejay answers, I only say,
                              “Light In August.”
And he screams like he had a bet with somebody that no one
       would get it, but the next weekend there are my tickets
waiting at the box office, which is good because the show
      is sold out, Jon and I edging in with all the poseur punks
and the suburban punks and the wannabee-Goths,
       the hall so dark all you can see are the little amp lights
up on stage, as slowly, subtly we begin to have
       an awareness of a noise,
               no, it’s not a noise, it’s a vibration,
what barely inhabits the realm of perception, a hum,
       not getting any louder, but you become more and more
aware of it the longer it keeps hummmming along
                        because certain cranial bones, important ones,
are beginning to resonate with the hum,
        not that Jon is noticing because two really cute girls
                        are already talking to him,
but behind them the pierced and tattooed alike are putting
       their hands over their ears, and this guy next to us says
                      “Awww, Jesus, not the 60 cycle hum.
                      I hope nobody in here is an epileptic.”
And that’s when I start to get irritated with the noise,
      me thinking: Well, I guess this is it. I’m way too old
for these shows. Who am I trying to kid?
      And the hum keeps humming, not rising or falling
but morphing into a feedback loop like when you’re
       tripping on acid, and you get palpitations from
that awareness of your own heart beating,
        its lub-dubbing simplicity a reminder
        of how precarious existence really is,
the bad-dream of playing solitaire with mortality
     upon us all, and that’s when this huge skinhead
gets up on a chair and screams,
                   “Turn that fucking shit off!”
which, as it turns out, is the signal for the Swans
      to come out, plug in and start playing,
them having this concept around their shows sort of like
      Andy Kauffman did where the idea is to first
try and piss off some of the people who have paid
      to come see you.
                and in this way a true dramatic tension
                will be achieved rather than
                the old-timey version
                       which requires a suspension of disbelief,
what might be a deconstructavist assumption but perhaps not,
       and the whole thing is beginning to remind me of Faulkner,
how there was no gap in the 60-cycle hum
      being a good bit like one of his paragraphs that go
on and on, and you turn the page only to see two more
      pages of words, words, words stretched out, limitless,
and if he hadn’t gotten drunk as a coot and fallen
      off that horse and killed himself, he’d likely still
be hammering out those pages, pages, pages,
      but anyway, the Swans put on a good show,
and when it’s over Jon says he’s leaving
      with one of the girls or maybe both of them, who knows,
and I go home where Lucy, our grown daughter
       is staying up late talking with Kathy, telling her
about this old lady, almost a street person but not quite,
       who had come up to their table that day
in the Piccadilly where Lucy was having lunch with Jasmine,
       her 10-year-old daughter,
                                               and Lucy knew
                                               she so knew
this lady was going to be trouble, and she was right because
      the old lady stopped, pointed to Jasmine and asked
in a very loud voice as though she were hard of hearing,
      “Is her father black?”
Which, looking at Jasmine is a very obvious question,
      And Lucy said, “Yes.”
the next table starting to laugh a little by now,
       but the old lady isn’t through yet, she points again,
and in that same too-loud voice goes,
       “You know, her grandchildren will be Octoroons.”
And that gets several Piccadilly tables laughing,
        but as Lucy is telling this story, it’s like she sort of
thinks it’s funny, God bless her, but what it does to me though
        is throw me right back into the synchronicity deal,
how Jung invented the word for one thing, but also it’s
        how the old lady is straight out of Light In August,
and it makes me want to repeat that Faulknerism,
        “The past is not dead, it’s not even past,”
a line most associate with Spanish moss on live oaks
        when those words were actually spoken
in a Harvard dorm room, not that it matters because
        I decide not to tell Lucy the quote, for it would just be
my shadow, my sad attempt to still be instructive to a
        daughter already grown, you know, the suffering
of my soul looking for an outlet – so instead
       I just say I have a headache leftover from the Swans,
their 60 cycle hum, which is after all the truth, and so
       I say, good night; I go upstairs and go to bed.