How Very Urbane American of You – Manuel Marrero


You are the proud founder of a small literary press. How very urbane American of you. Prouder still the dead sap who left you that dwindling inheritance, the abstruse legal gymnastics of which you don’t completely understand. You could’ve co-invested in a property, but you chose literature: manuscripts, galleys, agents, interns, 60/40 consignment, revolving doors.

You roundly frequent the local boutique bookstores with middling Caribbean selections for coffee and sandwiches. You pick up the paper. You are ogled by roustabouts who think your hair too long, your shirt too small and your general attire too revealing, patches of hirsutism and shapeless flab popping buttons and damning eyeballs. You are lumpen bohemian — luftmensch, human bushel of tumbleweed — and this is your province. It’s another unseasonably hot and muggy day in a record breaking summer and heat advisories chirp via your nifty news app. You get a migraine from listlessly walking to your mailbox.

You are depressed. You chose a thankless, somewhat fruity career without chance of windfall. Each day you chip away at a novel that grows more ungainly and inscrutable by the word count. You drink cheap beer and are grateful you’re not out there preening like your peers, making Faustian bargains for success and fame. You’re better than that. Better than a million fucks flying Hollywood in migratory swaths. At some point, you had some semblance of a vision, one of solidarity and reclamation — of the means of production, of distribution, of everything that haunts literature, that starves it into a corner, to take it back from the bourgeois free market scum for the participatory egalitarian — you goddamn hippie.

Your chitinous skin is pale and mottled. You live in a city populated by exactly one mosquito per centimeter of fleshy real estate you are hence bound to share with the mosquitoes. That city sits atop precarious limestone. The streets flood from the bottom up. Short term measures were taken to elevate the streets and erect unsightly pumps. An elaborate ecosystem of coral, polyps bleached by sunscreen and other toxic waste, formerly shallow reefs visible to passersby now submerged and overcrowded by nurse sharks and barracudas. A poor man’s Venice. Everybody aspires to statuesque self-maintenance. Your brother waxes his lower back, your sister is coiffed weekly, and sports tans are requisite the chiseled beach bum lest someone think you’re poor. You bathe in Cortisone cream. You eke out a living one severance check at a time. You are livid at the corrupt local politicians purchasing borrowed time for their faux charities, drifting toward their zero sum endgame.  You could use a reason to live, but you’re not desperate. One curio a year on the shelf and you’re content.

You write fiction because you read it and earnestly believe in the urgent cultural primacy of the written word. All else is paltry currency, all else is hypnotism. You believe you can only shoot your way out of complicity, like the mythical Roberto Bolaño standing on a counter in Mexico and calling for wage slaves to jettison their day jobs and commit fully to the act of writing. Through a quake in time he said to you, the reader: Trust in God, he won’t let anything disappear. (2666, p. 421)

He also said “Now I want you to…stir up the hive. Naturally, you won’t be alone. I’ll be with you always, though you can’t see me, helping you every step of the way.” (p. 632)

You ooze spite through your pores, railing against the orthodoxy of your dystopic surroundings, the bed you made. Your life is a howling jeremiad. Precarious, treacherous and loud. Sever the manacles. Every sentence is ad hoc, every page is flammable as cash.