categories: Cocktail Hour
I’ve decided to serialize the first section of The Adventures of Mr. Id, which is the opening of a novel I wrote three summers ago. It may be the first novel to be based on a Youtube video, since I got the idea while filming my own little film, Transformation. I have always been obsessed with transformations, loving werewolves and Altered States and having re-read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde not long before deciding to try my own hand at the form with this project.
Later he tried to figure out why he had revealed his secrets to Pam, after being so stingy for so long when talking about his work. First what it wasn’t. It wasn’t drunken/drugged confession or pride in his discovery or the fact that he wanted to impress her so that she would have sex with him(which he did want at that moment by the way, dear god, did he want that). It wasn’t any of the usual reasons or social conventions that might have led a less secretive person than himself to answer her fairly normal question in a fairly normal way. No, it wasn’t any of that. More it was just that as he began to tell her the story of his discovery, just a detail or two at first, he became interested in the story itself and, before he could stop himself, the momentum of the telling took over. After all, what could possibly be more interesting? Out of the world of random facts he had created something entirely new. Who else could say that? Very few people on this earth. (So maybe there was a little pride mixed in.) But not only that. He also wanted to recreate for this Pam—this delightfully voluptuous former friend turned imaginary lover with the perfect breasts he could so vividly envision behind that frumpy blue sweater—wanted to recreate for her the creative sensation, the wildness and joy of his discovery, and finally the sheer prettiness—the cleanness—of the scientific solution. Charles understood that to do this, to recreate the sensation for her, he had to be exact, had to tell his story with detailed accuracy. And so perhaps he was also a tad longwinded.
At one point he made her promise to stay still and he sprinted to get more drinks. He rushed to the bar, ordering the drinks from the boy, who now gave him a strangely superior smile. Charles nodded at this odd smile, got the drinks and then rushed back to Pam, gulped down his mix of brown and clear, and continued with this story. He found that language, which had eluded him earlier, was now coming back, and he once again had access to his full vocabulary. True, Pam looked at him like he was insane as he spoke. But she was also interested.
After the drink he got to the crux of it. How the sequencing of the genome, so thrilling at first, had become, like everything else, commonplace after a while, and how it was finally accident—oh, blessed accident, giver of so much—that led him to see that what he’d come to call the primal gene could actually be isolated.
“One night I couldn’t sleep,” he said. “I walked through the Yard from my rooms in Adams House, taking the detour down behind the Science Center so I could think. I found my feet were leading me back toward the Microbiology Building, and I cut through the alley off Divinity Ave. At first I thought hard about the sequence of genes, as I’d been doing for days, weeks, months really, but then, exhausted, I just let my mind wander. It was seeing the statues of the rhinoceroses that finally did it. You know those two life-size statues that stand guard on either side of the steps of my building. Of course I’d seen the stupid statues thousands of times before—I walk between them each day when I go to work. But that evening I focused closely on the one on the left, placing my hand on its hard green iron oxide hide. There was something about the way the creature’s armored plate covered its head, in Stegosaurian fashion, that sparked my mind.”
He described how in that instant he saw not just the beast itself, but the beast as it had once been, its’ chromosomal predecessors further back in the murk of time, something dinosaurian or earlier, and at the same time his eyes riveted on the plate that covered most of its body, the overlay of armor. It must have been the combination of that thought–that we all have older, anachronistic selves—and the sight of the rhino that let him see the truth. For months Charles had been pounding his head against an idea and now, suddenly, it was revealing itself, unfolding, opening up. Simply, elegantly, perfectly. He rushed back to the lab, but even before he set to work he knew he had unlocked the thing. What had fooled them all along was the way that younger proteins grew over the older strands, a kind of second growth—like armor of course!—and in less than an hour he had discovered, below that second growth, a genetic spectacle so pure that upon seeing it under the electro-microscope he literally gasped in the manner of a clichéd cartoon scientist. But the day’s second discovery proved equally gasp-worthy: it turned out that the outer, younger cellular material could be stripped back, like shucking corn, and that the purer older material could be isolated.
How could he explain the beauty of the idea? The simplicity? The cleanness?
Pam had stayed with him through the rhino description but as he began to describe the specifics of the discovery his tongue returned, of necessity, to the jargon of his specialty. He also noticed that he had fashioned his right hand into roughly the shape of a sea clam rake, and that he’d been waving that rake wildly in front of him as he spoke. By then Pamela Swan had finished her drink and was staring at him. When he stopped talking she put her hand on his arm.
“Jesus Christ,” she said. “What was it you’d found?”
Charles searched for a way to put it.
“I call it the primal gene, but Freud might have had a different name. He might have called it the Id.”
She stared at him again. Her hand still rested on his arm, sending out waves of electric sensation that tingled through his entire body. When she finally removed the hand he felt deeply disappointed. Until about an hour or two ago most of their relationship had consisted of a jovial belittling each other’s disciplines, so he wouldn’t have been surprised if she thought his story was a hoax. But she seemed to be able to read the intensity of his manner. (He supposed, in retrospect, that it wasn’t too hard to read.)
“Holy Shit, Charles. You’re serious.”
“Dead serious,” he said.
Now it was Pam who looked agitated, and if he’d been in his right mind, he would have put a hand on her shoulder and patiently explained that he was still in the early stages of experimentation, just past testing it on mice and fruit flies, and that it was too early to accurately say what it was he’d found. But as much as he wanted to be circumspect, to do what was correct and good and appropriate, he found that her smell, her sweet eucalyptus-tinted musk, had so fully infiltrated his mind, that, rather than offer support or further explain the theories that he’d based his career on, he was instead vividly imagining what it might be like to hike up her little black skirt, and lift her up onto the 19th century colonial dresser that rested directly behind them.
She grabbed his hand.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said.
Had she read his mind?
But as soon as we got out on the sidewalk it was clear her concerns were professional, or at least personal, and not sexual. She began talking, but he didn’t listen. He found himself preoccupied with the fact that it seemed to have rained while they’d been inside and listened instead to the grit and crunch of the bricks below their feet. The rain had gifted the world with a fecund heaviness. They walked below the leaves of a black willow, wet and hanging, drooping and dripping. As they crossed Quincy Street he stared at the black oily puddles of rainbow-mixed mudwater, noticing the soup of old seed pods and maple leaves from the season before. The black parking meters, glistening now, looked like short, big-headed bald men. The spear points atop the fence that guarded Harvard Yard shone black and oily.
Once they had cut across the street into the Yard, Pam turned to face him.
“Are you all right, Charles? You were talking very loudly in there.”
They stood in a courtyard, a small yard within the Yard, behind two buildings he recognized as Emerson and Sever. Sever, in particular looked imposing and impressive, like a massive brick fortress complete with thick iron-hinged castle doors. But the trees in the courtyard were infinitely more impressive than the buildings. Directly above them a great oak swayed, its black braches like giant hands, waving back and forth. He stepped closer to the tree to get a better look at its bark. The bark grew in segmented sections, each section the size of ancient cherts or arrowheads, each chert emitting a greenish hue. The lines around the sections ran like yellow rivulets down the tree. He started to point to the bark, to tell her how beautiful it was, how alive, but she stopped him.
“I’ve never seen you like this, Charles. You seem very, very drunk.”
He looked at her.
“I’m not drunk,” he said. But then, thinking of all those glasses of brown-and-white he’d poured into himself, he reconsidered: “Maybe a little drunk,”
She started to talk again, but he could barely focus on her words. He wanted to ask her where her red-tail hawk might be now? Asleep in the steeple of the Memorial Church with its family? Above them the oak swayed, bathed in the light of an alien street lamp, and he understood that, with no students in sight, the shadowed area below the great tree would be the perfect place for them to lie down on the ground and copulate. Wet perhaps, slightly mulchy, but still perfect. Charles had gotten better at speaking, but he didn’t see a way of suggesting this to her without giving offense. Instead he laughed out loud for no reason. The bleat again.
“Charles! Listen to me.” Her words broke into his thoughts. Why was she yelling at him? It was strange really, this behavior of hers, inappropriate was the word that came to mind. Charles was almost taken aback. Did they really know each other well enough for her to yell at him in that way?
“Does anyone else know about what you were telling me in there? Have you told anyone?”
He grabbed her hand. He didn’t know why he did it or why she let him. But she did not pull it away.
“No,” he said. “Just you.”
She looked him up and down and he saw what he imagined was his own ape-like manner and posture reflected in her eyes.
“And obviously you’re on this stuff right now. Whatever it is, this primal gene. You’re taking it.”
“I am,” he admitted.
The oak tree swayed.
“And I like it,” he added. He wanted to laugh but her face was serious.
She seemed to be trying to figure something out, chewing over a problem of her own, and to do so she stared off toward two small, spindly trees–coffee trees they were called he now remembered–that mirrored each other on either side of the path. The coffee tree braches stretched out, reminding him of something he’d seen under a light microscope: the detached vermis of a cerebellum. Meanwhile water dripped down from the oak above them. Pam kept quiet. Back in his normal life he had never been very good at reading social signals, and he knew that in his addled state he wasn’t any better. A wild guess might have been that what Pam felt was some combination of concern for him, excitement about his discovery, and disconcertment over the strange situation. But while he wasn’t great at reading social signals, he was getting better at smells. Her pheromonal musk rose up and he knew that while she might be many other things, one thing she also was was aroused. His own feelings on that matter were not dissimilar, as evidenced, among other manifestations, by the hard arcing bow of flesh that now strained against the front of his pants.
She turned to him, her eyes moist, he noticed. Next came a pause, an opportunity. Both nature and nurture—everything from genetic encoding to Hollywood movies—was crying out to Charles, coaching him on what to do next. And he wanted to do what the voices were telling him, he really did. He wanted to tell her she was beautiful, since she most surely was. The oak rustled overhead in the blackness. The world was wet and full.
It was the right time to kiss her but kiss her he did not.
Instead, with a kind of lunge, Charles grabbed Pamela Swan and pulled her tight. For a split second he re-created his fantasy from earlier. He pulled their loins together tight and hard and felt her firm pelvis against his while simultaneously experiencing the soft cushion of her breasts against his torso just as he’d imagined. And for the shortest of seconds she let him hold her. Before slamming him back with the heels of her hands and, in what seemed almost the same motion, slapping him hard across the face.
“Jesus Christ, Charles,” she said. “You asshole.”
He waited for the rage to leave her face. It didn’t for a second, then ten, then fifteen.
“Get out of here! Leave me alone!”
Charles wanted to hold her and console her and tell her he would protect her from this creep who was his other self. But he found himself incapable of disobeying her. He turned away and began to skulk off, looking back only once to see her hurrying across the street past puddles that glimmered blue. He ran across the blackest parts of Harvard Yard, keeping away from the overhead lights and staying under the dark shadows of the trees, moving from tree to tree. He stopped only once, to piss. He found a dark spot which, oddly, was right in the Yard’s middle, at the base of the Memorial Church down below the high yellow light that shone out of the steeple and must have troubled the hawks’ sleep. Off to the side of the steps was a poorly lit patch behind some hemlock bushes, a good loamy corner with spongy ground that seemed, in his mood, the perfect place for urinating. Charles emptied himself and when he was done he zipped up and moved warily back into the light.
He was too far gone to feel self-loathing yet, but on a pure animal level he knew he had crossed certain boundaries that were not to be crossed. For one second he felt the urge to go back to Pam, to track her down and apologize, or at least follow her in the shadows to make sure she made it home safely. But that was one of the few desires he stifled that night, instead half-running and half-lurching away from the scene of his crime, stumbling toward home in the darkness.