Sunday, February 15, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 36.1 (Joe Brainard)

I Remember
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brainard, Joe
I Remember

I remember the first time I heard about the book, I Remember, by Joe Brainard. It was at a reading at Hallwalls in Buffalo by Ben Friedlander and -- o well, I can't recall who read with him. It was part of Just Buffalo's Writers at Work series. We had a new director who was not aware that poetry time means actual time plus 30-60 minutes, and he was very upset that Ben arrived ten minutes late for the reading.

My only recollection is of Ben reading his own "I Remember" piece that, if recall correctly, had something to do with examining political events. He described Brainaird's book in some detail by way of introduction then launched into his own version, which had a much more critical cast than the original. Ben's biting satirical wit gave the piece a very different kind of edge than the Brainard's.

After that, I bought this Penguin version, which I think was in print for all of a year. Paul Auster, who at the time still published at Penguin, had a lot to do with ushering this edition into print on a mainstream press. His blurb on the back of the book ( "It is one of the few totally original books I have ever read") was what made me remember the section from his book excerpted in the previous entry. Has there ever been a great book that has required so many editions on so many presses (Angel Hair, Full Court, Penguin, Granary) in such a short period of time? I think not.

An excerpt, randomly chosen:

I remember being afraid that the barber might slip and cut my ear.

I remember that once he did.

I remember at the end of a haircut getting my neck dusted off with a soft brush full of nice smelling powder. And getting swirled around to look in the mirror and how big, afterwards, my ears were.

I remember the very ornate chrome foot rest. And the old Negro shoeshine man.

I remember having an itchy back all the way home.

I remember a tower on top of a building in Tulsa that changed colors every few minutes. But only green and yellow and white.

I remember miniature hats in miniature hat boxes in a men's hat store window. You got one free when you bought someone a gift certificate for a hat.

I remember balloon sleeves. And no sleeves.

I remember "bouffants" and "beehives." (Hairdos)

I remember when "beehives" really got out of hand.

I remember school desk carvings and running my ball point pen back and forth in them.

I remember the noise candy wrappers made when you don't want to make any noise.

I remember when those short sleeved knitted shirts with long tails (to wear "out") with little embroidered alligators on the pockets were popular.

I remember plain camel hair coats w]that rich girls in high school wore.

I remember "socialite corner' (2nd floor) where only kids who belonged to social clubs met and chatted before school and in between classes.

I remember that to be in a social club you either had to live on the South side of town (I lived in the North) or else you had to be good looking (I wasn't) and usually both.

I remember that popular boys always had their blue jeans worn down just the right amount.

I remember madras plaid shirts and sport coats and how they had to be washed a few times before they had the right look.

I remember "French kissing" and figuring out that it must have something to do with the tongue since there isn't anything else in the mouth except teeth.

I remember that shaking or holding hands with a girl while you scratched her palm with your middle finger was somehow "dirty." (Often done as a joke and the girl would turn red and scream.)

I remember in Boston a Puerto Rican boy who behind a glass counter in a cafeteria and his arms up to his rolled up sleeves: thick and gold and hairless.

I remember early sexual experiences and rubbery knees. I am sure sex is better now but I do miss rubbery knees.


By the way, I hope some of you do take the opportunity offered in the previous post of dropping your own I Remember comments in the comment box.  Not one person did and I am disappointed. Disappointed, indeed.

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