Lewis Carroll drills rabbit-holes in my brain. Charles Bukowski raids my liquor cabinet. Papa Hemingway bullies me from Pamplona to Purgatory. And I'm sure Jack Kerouac laces my tea with LSD. I know all of this to be true, but in reluctant compliance with certain familial (and official) persuasions, I deigned to enter into therapy anyway.
Alas, my therapist is a poorly-read institutional scholar. Even worse, he couldn't read my mind with the aid of a telescope. His conclusions stink like bait-shop sushi.
So, I stalk my librarian. Ms. Ravenpoe. I know where she lives now. She lives alone. I'll have a quiet chat with her. She'll know what I should do.
Fey Dr. Zarkov insists I suffer from Eater-Reader Neurosis.
"Ya," he assures me. "Zhis is a recognized, bona fide zsychological condition, first documented by zhe eminent Dr. Zigmund Freud."
Freud. I've read him. Dirty-minded bastard. He made me pack away all my snapshots of the only beloved mother I'll ever have. Dirty-minded bastard.
Dr. Zarkov goes on to say, "You ingest literature like a zource of zseudo-zocial nourishment, but fail to fully digest zhe contents, zo it builds and ferments into a toxic brew, ya? Like Heineken. Improperly digested nourishment can often turn unhealthy, lethal even. Put zimply, it is unhealthy to ingest, vhat one cannot digest."
"So, zhat's your diagnosis, Doc?" I asked. "Constipation?"
He shrugged. "Of ze brain, ya. Conztipation of ze brain. Close enough for zsychology, anyvay. Ve must treat zhis aggressively, before your condition becomes complicated viss Randomania."
"Ya. Imagine all zhose books poisoning your noggin are TV programs. Now imagine your remote control device does zhe cuckoo-cuckoo-bird, and keeps changing channels vissout you being avare. Zhat's Randomania. Believe me you, you don't vant your Eater-Reader Neurosis complicated by Randomania."
Ms. Luda Ravenpoe has been my librarian since I was a boy and began reading those Dr. Seuss horror stories. In fact, Ms. Ravenpoe recommended them. Such innocent-looking fare, masking such deeply troubling and ominous doings.
When I returned the books, I expressed to Ms. Ravenpoe how much I appreciated her recommendations.
"...and the Grinch, and the Cat in the Hat? Such sharp-honed metaphors for the nihilistic world in which we struggle against everything and nothing."
Ms. Ravenpoe gasped. "Gilbert, I don't think you read these delightful stories as they were intended to be read. And wherever did you pick up the word 'nihilistic'?"
"From a biography of Friedrich Nietzche I've been reading at the same time."
"You've been reading about Nietzche at the same time you're reading Dr. Seuss?"
I beamed at her, proud to be a libraryee. "Uh-huh. I like to read. Books are neat."
Ms. Ravenpoe appeared troubled. "But you're a little boy. Dr. Seuss and Friedrich Nietzche? I'm not sure that's... compatible reading material."
I waved away her concerns. "Don't trouble yourself. Take away the scary, ill-informed drawings, and Seuss is almost as much fun as Nietzche."
Ms. Ravenpoe slowly cocked her head to the right. "Are you saying, Gilbert, you prefer Nietzche over Dr. Seuss?"
I thought a moment. "Well, they're both entertaining, but Nietzche's name is funnier."
She shrugged. "I'll give you that one. But do you understand what you're reading about Nietzche? The philosophical jargon? I mean, his . . . discussion, the terminology, is way beyond your grade level."
I nodded. "As well as I understand 'Sam I am'. What kind of cockeyed syntax is that?"
"Yet you understand 'nihilism'?"
"Sure," I said, showing off, "everything we believe is made up, and none of it matters."
She crossed herself. "Lord have mercy."
A few weeks later, I was back at the library, returning Moby Dick and Crime and Punishment.
Ms. Ravenpoe raised her eyebrows. "Gilbert, you've wandered out of the children's section again. Have you really read these books?"
"And you understand them?"
"Enough so I'm never taking a bath again."
"He's lurking for me. By thunder, the white devil hungers for me other leg."
"Gilbert, you have two perfectly good legs. And the white whale isn't real. Melville is using it as a metaphor. Do you understand, metaphor?"
"I understand everything I read," I boasted. "But I can't tell if Tropic of Cancer is supposed to be funny, or biological. It's kind of like a Moliere bedroom farce except, I don't know, stickier."
"Good heavens, Gilbert! Moliere? And where did you come across a copy of Tropic of Cancer? It's supposed to be banned."
"On my father's bed table. Can you imagine people really doing stuff like that? Sticky, know what I mean?"
Ms. Ravenpoe sighed. "I can only imagine."
Dr. Zarkov is right about one thing. I am a voracious reader. And sometimes the books seem to seep into me. I've read Catch-22 so many times, I crave chocolate-covered Egyptian cotton, and have filled out the papers to have my name legally changed to Milo Minderbinder. When I read Dickens, I yearn for porridge--but never enough. When I read Twain, I can't bear to wear shoes. If I read Dickens and Twain together, it's like I'm adrift on a splitting raft destined for two different cities.
Ms. Ravenpoe will know what to do.
I lurk in a shadow darker than Raymond Chandler's dialogue. Ms. Ravenpoe's house is a ghostly galleon resting on a ribbon of moonlight--it boasts seven gables, and was once owned by the family Usher. Or was it the Joads? The Corleones?
Actually, it's late afternoon on a sunlit day when I approach Ms. Ravenpoe's modest bungalow. Her doorbell tolls for me ... all the way to Adano.
"Why, Gilbert, what are you doing here?" she asks through a barely cracked-open door. The chain is still attached.
"May I come in, Ms. Ravenpoe? I've got something on my mind. A lot of things, actually. Too many things."
"No, no. I don't think that would be a good idea. We can talk tomorrow--at the library. Now please go away."
"But I don't think I can go to the library anymore. The doc says I have book constipation, and it's poisoning me."
"You have what? I've never heard of such a thing."
"The books I read get inside me, and they get all twisted up, and I can't, well, poop them out. I thought you might be able to help. You sure I can't come in?"
"Quite sure, Gilbert. I think you should go now. And please don't ever come back here. Good day."
I can't remember where I left my ray gun. I think the hunchback took it. Maybe it was Rico, or Watson. Ishmael will know. Or I'll borrow Queequeg's harpoon. But I have to find Captain Queeg's strawberries first. Jean Valjean stole them, and traded for grapes of wrath. I must Kill Dr. Jeckyll Zhivago, and his librarian raven. Ah, but it's a sin to kill a mockingbird ...
Fred Waiss is a former high school teacher and coach who writes poetry, articles, short stories, novellas, and novels as the muse attacks; as an author he considers himself a work in progress.