I’ve been reading since kindergarten and my mother still has the certificate with the picture of a happy duck to prove it. Back then it was Seuss and Silverstein, and Truffula Trees and Hug-o-wars and all kinds and colors of eggs and ham and fish.
But Dick and Jane let Spot off the leash and that dog went gallivanting whimsically across the shelves teenagers' favorite books, of higher lore where Hobbits pondered the Misty Mountains from the forests of the elves. I was there when Arthur became the fish and swam at Merlin’s side to and fro to learn the lessons of life, of pond; I learned to dodge the dangers of the pike, too.
I swept next to Big Chief Broom with the crazies and walked around calling myself the Bull Goose Looney of them all, subtly sabotaging the Big Nurse’s conformity machine. And O Beloved! When she appeared from death in my backyard, I sang hymns in the southern forests in the forbidden gatherings of the slaves. I poked my toes out of the covers next to Ishmael to feel the winter’s cold and finally tied myself to the whale with a lusty thrust of an ill-timed harpoon.
And just as I was sure that “we live, as we dream – alone,” things fell apart, or so Achebe proclaimed. Gladly I was condemned and walked through hell and passed Hades with the help of Charon’s raft enraptured by the trinity and Dante, Virgil and Beatrice, divine. Later, I was purified again drinking Pilon’s wine with the rest of the paisanos somewhere in the grassy hills of Monterey.
I stopped by Walden Pond to fish and but ended up on Mango St. licking my fingers and contemplating the nature of arroz.
I read The Idiot again and again and still could not make sense of the Prince’s purity, stalking after Rogozhin through the winter-darkened streets of St. Petersburg. I froze with Dr. Zhivago in the Russian wilderness, and made myself the rain king with Henderson by moving holy statues. I used Piggy’s glasses to start a fire and (o my hubristic self) turned up the volume to the Siren’s mellifluous song. What you called the Unbearable Lightness of Being I called the Monkeyhouse. And when some were about to “carry praise or blame too far,” I picked up my pitchfork and chose to joust with all the windmills in the world.
Then I sat in the back of a pickup and balled the jack to Denver with Dean and Jack and starving, hysterical, naked. From there I floated down the river on a boat with Huck, Ulysses, and all the brave rabbits of Hazel’s warren fighting for a better world.
I’ve trudged through the mists of Avalon looking for the Holy Mother and spoke my share of doublespeak in the peaceful wars of Big Brother’s eye.
And now I’m lurking in a pile of teenagers' favorite books with Ignatius Reilly in New Orleans looking through the burbling crowd for signs of bad taste. We’re singing plantation songs together and gazing wistfully on the second start to the left, and then straight on till morning.