The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Excerpts from THE POET by G. Tod Slone

(A 743p Unpublished Nonfiction Novel)

An Indictment of Intellectuals from the Bottom-Feeding Grounds of Fifth-Tier Academics… and Elsewhere

The following excerpt from The Poet was published by Broken Plate Review (Ball State University) and also in a French translation in Moebius (Montréal, 2006).  The director of Éditions Léméac (Montréal) expressed interest in publishing The Dissident, but only in a French translation, then realized because I was not Canadian, he would not be able to obtain funding to publish the book.  In any case, The Dissident is a 743-page, non-fiction autobiographical novel about the pedestrian struggles of an uncommon poet-professor parrhesiastes. In ancient Greek, the parrhesiastes was a truth teller who dared speak rude truth to power. Unfortunately, that tradition has all but disappeared today… kind of like democracy.  Well, The Dissident seeks to bring it back. The manuscript includes letters, poems, real dialogue, and humoristic details. 
Quotidian Back and Forthing
The term “dissident American” was an oxymoron in the nation’s psyche.  In mythical America, it was not permitted to exist.  Careerism was enemy of dissidence, locking a person into a prison of repressed logic, thought and reason.  Ninety-nine per cent of poets and academics preferred it to Emerson’s advice to “go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.”  Instead, the careerist poets, teachers, and college professors went sheepish and dogmatic, and spoke the educationist-party line in all ways… 
            Supine on the floor, dressed in thin black and white cotton pants, I reflected.   At age 55, I was prevented from becoming a careerist by careerists.  Was I fortunate?  Perhaps.  Nevertheless, I’d become somewhat purposeless.  Periodically throughout my life, I’d teetered on the brink of futility.  Simply unable to fool myself into believing in purpose, I was too Cartesian for my own pragmatic survival.  Well, I was in good physical condition and still had an angular jaw-line.  Child of the sixties, I hadn’t yet given up… unlike the bulk hippie herd. 
            Once again, it was summertime, and I once again unemployed.  The alcove was a small cluttered room.  The house had two bedrooms, both upstairs.  Joanie and her 16-year old kid occupied them.  Well, sleeping on the floor was good for the back, so they said.  Several days before, Joanie and I had driven up to Barnes & Nobles to do something different.  In the store, I soon became dizzied by the sea of garbage stocked on the shelves and tables, the magazines and books.  Stupid white men were pushing stupid white men's books… and stupid black women, stupid black women's books.  I mentioned my observations to Joanie, who seemed to agree. 
            —Isn’t that the truth?  And the book covers look like wrapping paper, tin-foiled and dazzling!
            —They're pulling the eyes right out of heads!  Maybe people have begun to frame these things, rather than reading them.  There's nothing but fluff in the innards, for chrissakes!
            Joanie moved down another aisle as if repelled by my negativity.  The next day, she was back at work and I alone.  What to do with the day?  I drove to the Bedford Public Library.  Visiting the local libraries had become part of my unemployment routine.  On the shelf I noticed Michael Moore’s New York Times bestseller Stupid White Men.  I grabbed it and walked to the check-out counter. 
            —Does anybody ever complain about book titles?
            —It does happen, but only rarely. 
            —What do you do when they complain? 
            —Well, what we do is tell them that they don’t have to check out the book and that we try to please everyone by stocking a wide variety of titles.
            —So, you don’t remove it from the shelf?
            —No.  We never do that… at least I don’t think so.  Let me check with my colleague. 
            The portly librarianesque woman walked into the room behind the counter and soon emerged with the chief of acquisitions, who concurred.  I brandished Stupid White Men and spoke again.
            —Well, then I won’t complain about this book.
            —Sir, I can see why you wouldn’t like that title.
            —If you want, you can contact our director about it.
            —No, that’s okay… since you’re not censoring.  It doesn’t really bother me.  I just wanted to make a point… but would you ever purchase a book called Stupid Black Women
            Both women’s faces dropped, visibly disturbed as if I’d said FUCK out loud.           
            —Why don’t you ask the library’s director?  Here’s her card. 
Anyhow, the following day, it was eight in the morning and I was readying to get up to begin the new day.  Joanie had been walking around already for several hours.  She didn’t sleep much, she liked her coffee.  I closed my eyes, then opened them again, inspecting the ceiling:  the corpses of a hundred yellow jackets lay in the translucent light fixture.  I gazed up out through the back door at the trees.  It was sunny.  The traffic out front on Main Street was burgeoning per usual.  Great trucks rumbled by frequently, shaking the shit out of the house, infiltrating wafts of exhaust.  I sat up on the floor, rotated my torso into kneeling position, then stood.  My knees creaked and ached.  The feeder was busy with birds, little sparrows and occasional bullying jays.  I sat down on the white wicker lounge chair with my laptop.  A poem had been lingering in my mind, a French composition in the works.  So, I contemplated, typed, corrected, and revamped again and again. 

Sans espoir, une meilleure vision…
Oui, il y a toujours l’espoir.
Que je trouve un boulot,
Qu’on me publie,
Qu’on me décerne quoi que ce soit.

Oui, il y a toujours l’espoir
Que mes genoux se désankylosent
Que mes cheveux s’arrêtent de tomber
Que je trouve une petite nénette de 25 ans.

Oui, il y a toujours l’espoir
Que le cerveau se détourne complètement
            de la réalité !

The house was a modest two-story, single garage in wealthy, khaki-shorted Concord, where the children grew up with cash, crew cuts, brand new SUVs, and a certain eagerness to enroll in business schools.  Times had indeed changed.  How the herd hippies had ended up producing such incurious creatures was certainly one of America’s great mysteries… or perhaps not.   And why hadn’t I moved on like the bulk of my generational brethren?  Standing at the door, looking out at the trees and gardens through the screen, I peed into an empty gallon skim-milk jug, which I kept under the desk.  It was easier to do that than traipse up the stairway to the bathroom where perpetual disarray of towels, clothes, shampoos, soaps, Kleenex boxes, medicines, the kid’s dirty underwear and muscle supplements.  Joanie and the kid were big-time consumers.  The house was much too small for them, either of them.  My days had become repeating ones, chunks of déjà vu, even the minor disputes.  Joanie appeared in the kitchen to heat up an old coffee—bang, slam, bang.  Unable to keep my mouth shut, I opened it. 
—What’s all that racket?  They ought to put a muffler on that damn microwave. 
—What do you mean? 
—Nothing.  But you were going up and down, up and down all freakin’ morning! 
—I was just carrying clothing and books.
—Why carry them from the attic to the basement, then back again?
—It’s good exercise.  Your coffee’s ready.
Joanie stepped into the alcove and put the cup next to me on the desk littered with books, papers and several flower pots.  I grabbed it.
—Damn thing’s too hot!  You shouldn’t microwave it so much.  One thirty-five max!  I bet you did 150.  
—Cut that grumpy shit, Henry, and let’s start the day off right!
—Okay, okay.  I’m sorry.  You’re right.  Thanks for the coffee.
She stepped over towards me.  We hugged briefly.  She spoke. 
—You’re not wearing that outfit again, are you?
—Why the hell not?
—You’ve been wearing it all week.
—Sure, but they’re comfortable pants, perfect for the summer.  Besides, what do I care?  I’m unemployed.
—Look at you.  Your hair is all over the place.  You need to shave! 
—I just shaved a couple of days ago.
—That’s what I mean. 
The quotidian back and forthing, which could erupt at any time during the day or night, sporadically, sometimes viscerally, rarely if ever resulted in a conclusive outcome.  It was part of the day, every day.  I walked outside to compact the garbage bags out front.  Joanie put them out every Wednesday morning.  The kid did nothing around the house, except help keep it a sty.  It cost $1.50 for one bag of garbage.  Often, I could compact three of Joanie’s loosely packed bags into one and save her $3. The bags had already been picked up.  I walked back inside and into the kitchen. 
—You know, one of my nightmares is waking up someday to find everyone dressed in a suit and tie, women and children included. 
—Well, I’m sure you won’t be one o f them!
I stepped into the alcove, where I sat back down on the wicker chaise longue, sipped the coffee, and wrote an email.  Over the years, I’d become a “letter writer”—mostly literary and always rapaciously critical. 
Dear Meredith McCulloch, Library Director, Bedford Free Public Library:  With regards the purchase of books, what are your policies?  One book title in particular at your library is offensive:   STUPID WHITE MEN.  Would you purchase a book with the title STUPID BLACK WOMEN?  If not, then why the double standard?  Why is it okay today to call white men stupid?  Isn't it time to simply end the name-calling, both black and white?  If not, then we find ourselves in a vicious unending circle.
On another note, can I interest you in subscribing to The American Dissident, the semiannual literary journal I publish?  The local libraries, for some odd reason... with the exception of the Concord Free Public Library, do not want to support area writers and publishers.  They say, they don't have the funds, yet have plenty of funds to buy books with titles like STUPID WHITE MEN.
Thank you for your attention.  Best, Henry Cusantre, editor of The American Dissident

What better way to devote my life than to disturbing the complacent and sempiternally praised.  I wrote another email.  What the hell. 
Dear Kevin Krader, Thoreau impersonator:  I suppose it was you who I bumped into at the Concord Museum the other day.  Anyhow, why not a little courage and step out of the impersonator mold and really “let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine,” instead of promoting it?  I am an enemy of the Thoreau Society, as you probably already know.  Thoreau too would have been an enemy.  No doubt, he would have found you aberrant walking around disguised as him!  Thoreau has been perverted into Society, bronze statue, trinkets, Shop at Walden, human animated Thoreau effigy for cash, and gorilla cops pursuing me for simply holding a sign proffering the absence of Free Speech at Walden Pond.  If you're a Thoreau Society member, I suppose you won’t even give it a thought.   Sincerely, Henry Cusantre, editor of The American Dissident

Again, I stepped outside to stretch out my eyeballs.  I walked into the garage, packed tightly, of furniture, books, rugs, clothes, kid’s toys, golf clubs, and tools.  Joanie was an accumulator.  She saved empty boxes, bags, and bottles.  I was the opposite, throwing away whatever I didn’t need, including books.  I scooped up a cup of seeds from a five-gallon bucket and poured them into the feeder, stepped back into the alcove, took off my sneakers, then entered the kitchen.  The kid had broken a glass the day before and hadn’t told anyone.  One of the smaller chards pierced my naked foot.  I pulled it out.  I was no longer covered by health insurance, so had to be extra careful.  Cobra had wanted $230 a month.  If I were insured, I wouldn’t be looking for work.  I lived very simply.  Uninsured, I stood with the other 45 million citizens like pigeons waiting for that eventful day of sickness or accident and for the vulture doctors to come in for the final kill.  What was wrong with America?  For a second opinion, while in Quebec City the week before on the Dufferin boardwalk late at night with Joanie prowling the bouquinerie stalls, I found and purchased volume one of De Toqueville’s De la démocracie en Amérique.  Sure, that was 150 years ago, but no doubt we hadn’t changed much at all. 
By profession, I was a college professor, though had held in-between jobs as long-term replacement high school teacher on Martha’s Vineyard Island and census enumerator in Lowell.  Indeed, not long ago, I used to knock on doors for $14 an hour.  My first week at that job had consisted of 40 hours of training.  “I’m nothing more than a robot for the US Census Bureau,” the trainer zen-mantra’d us.  “If you say that to yourself, you’ll do fine.”  He had the best advice.  No wonder he was the one standing in front of us and not vice versa.  “Women should not wear low-cut blouses, nor short mini-skirts.”
My ex-state college colleagues, including Joanie, had been raking in a lot more than $14 an hour, but my vision had perhaps become that much wider than theirs.  The cold water felt good on my forehead.  I scooped up another handful from the kitchen faucet, splashed, then toweled off.  That was about all I did in the mornings and sometimes I didn’t even do that.  Well, I also made it a point to brush my teeth.  I was still receiving that $300 dentist bill for a crown.  What a racket, crowns!  Every damn filling I ever had seemed to have cracked.  Joanie stepped into the kitchen. 
—I spoke with Jeff, and he said I should have a lawyer write up a letter saying precisely what part of the house you own.
—Why do we have to talk about that now?  I’m beat.  It’s early in the morning.
—You’re always beat, Henry, and it’s 10:30.  It’s not early.
—It would have been nice if maybe you’d invited me to join the conversation. 
—Well, what would you have said? 
—Who knows?
—Jeff really thinks I should be fair to you.
—Well, that’s nice of him. 
—Would that be good then?
—A letter. 
—Then I was right, wasn’t I?  Remember, you said, you wouldn’t give me one? 
—Yes, but now I think it’s only fair that we do it. 
—And then you’ll want me to leave the house, right? 
—You don’t have to leave.  I want us to be friends.
—That’s unlikely. 
            —Experience, that’s why.  I’ve been with a number of women, as you know, and I don’t have contact with one goddamn one of them. 
            —You’ll have to ask them.  Anyhow, I was thinking of calling my new novel, Stupid Black Women.  What do you think?
            —Well, I don’t think you’d ever get it published with that title. 
            A week later, I wrote a second email to the director of the public library to “encourage” a response.  She responded.  
If you wish to see our Materials Selection Policy it is on our home page Bedford under policies.
As you are probably aware Stupid White Men has been on the bestseller list for some time. The title may be rude, but it addresses the issue that white men are in charge of everything. The same cannot be said about women of any color.
Good luck with your book.  It's subject is not in our scope.
Meredith McCulloch, Library Director
Then I responded.
Thank you for your response.  Rude title?  It is clearly a racist title!  One of course must exit ones politically-correct orthodox cell (paradigm) to see that.  Contrary to your assertion, white men are not in charge of everything.  Black colleges, for example, are run by black men and women.    
Why would my book proposal on local high-school corruption not be in your “scope”?  Is the subject of my literary review also not in your “scope”?  Please respond to these two questions.  Also, is it your policy to prefer NY Times bestselling authors over local authors?  Thank you for your time and intellectual input. 
Then I was compelled to write a poem.  Hell, that’s what I did.  I was a poet. 
When Fighting the Battle against Fools, Be Prepared to Be Labelled a Fool
Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu'il est comique et laid!
—Charles Baudelaire, “L’Albatros”

A great machine operates, implacably building,
fostering, and otherwise enhancing positive façade
to cover up, plow under, and steamroll over
the negative side of things socially… perturbing.

This great façade, not the truth at all, but rather
intrinsic falsity, veritable corruption of reality,
anthropomorphically twinkling tranquil bureaucracy,
—civic, academic, and even literary—,
the target against which the solitarily engaged poet
hammering implacably, colliding head-on disruptively
into the reflecting bricks of terrible adamant futility

Stands as shield against the rude utterance
—discourteous flyer, critical letter, insolent reading—
even the dead fallen leaves become its eyesores,
pores and crevasses in its mortar of functionarism,
curious mixture of jargon, irrationality, and euphemism.

A great machine indeed operates implacably,
patina, its raison d’être; while beautification, its fraud...