Wakdjunkaga in Cedar Rapids

The opening of this chapter is fairly true to my own real life. I did write the first three chapters more or less at once, at least all in Ft. Madison in 1976 and 1977. Then I stopped. I revised the three chapters but got no further. Then around 1979 or ‘80 I added this fourth chapter (and notice the narrator says it got written three years after the others). I am not sure for my overall plot that it should arrive three years later (or not; I have a small idea now that would make the gap useful, if I could alter my narrator’s overly Lovecraftian tone). At any rate, he tries to continue the story…

The Book of Seasons

chapter four

Now I have reached the difficult part.

You must remember that what you are reading is not a novel. This book is not fiction. What I am telling you happened to me. Or, more precisely, I suppose, it happened to Wakdjunkaga, since most of what I have to say he told me in one roundabout and circumstantial manner or another.

I don’t say this because of what you have already read, although you may have begun to suspect the unusual nature of the story. What I’ve told you is not my problem. Those three chapters — begun so long ago, as I write this fourth — are natural enough, really. They were relatively easy to record, once I made myself begin. (It is beginning which is the hardest in any effort, I think. After a start one must only maintain the exertion, not easy in itself, I know, but that is because one keeps encountering smaller little beginnings in the process. Like writing: it is vilely hard to get started, but once begun, that first sentence, perhaps even the first paragraph comes without much additional strain. But then, like an entirely new beginning, that second paragraph presents itself to be written, and there it becomes so easy to stop, having not yet fully commenced.)

The first three chapters are like the first paragraph in my acquaintance with Wakdjunkaga. Once I actually forced words to, often literally, drip from my pen (I found typewriters demoralizing) that much came easily. But there I balked, barely begun. He had only arrived; I had the whole story to tell yet.

I did not exactly know how to go on. And so, between composing the end of the last chapter and setting this down now, three years quietly elapsed.

I got the chapters typed. I did revision on revision of those pages, precisely as I taught my students to write essays. All in my spare time. For I had become a high school teacher a year after my stint in Cedar Rapids, and I was busy dealing with the youth of mid-America. I worked often on the story of Wakdjunkaga, updating all my personal references, which caused me so much initial embarrassment to record. But, although I tried as many as thirteen times, I could not proceed any farther.

It was Wakdjunkaga who stopped me, not in person, but in personality. How could I go on? How could I explain him?

You’re not reading a novel. Understand that. I don’t have everything neatly plotted in my mind, with outlines for each chapter, the action developed with appropriate conflicts, complications and character changes. Neither Wakdjunkaga nor his life fit well to outlining.

However, I have noticed that already I am beginning to forget individual details and events, important to recall if this story is to be told correctly. That time that the Allison is growing hazier to me each time I try to remember.

It’s not so much what I’ve written as what I have to write. How can I explain Wakdjunkaga to you? He is not likable, not really. You won’t appreciate him; you’ll think me crazy for calling him a friend, for telling his story, for allowing him this book. We like to find heroes in our books, and I’m not sure he was much of a hero at all. I’d be closer if I called him a clown.

He was a sissy about pain: I never noticed afterward that his ankle bothered him, despite his initial assertion. He preferred ease, comfort and warmth to any other conditions.

A coward, he had deserted friends to save himself, avoided facing crises at any cost. I remember once we were in a bar downtown where I had never been before. We entered at Wak’s insistence. Exactly as I had feared, it was a rough place where we did not belong, and Wak was already drunk, quite loud and, as we sat at the bar, beginning to be a little abusive. Not that anyone would bother him. Most people are very cautious about hitting an old man like him, even if he did not look his full age (in my initial estimate that first night I had grossly underestimated). Eventually one large and meaty character who had overheard Wak’s comments to me took offense, as I had dreaded and, speaking beer into my face as insults and threats, got so carried away he could not stand my presence any longer and took a heavy swing at the side of my head. I clearly recall my other ear ringing sharply onto the bar and then, from the floor barely noticing Wak’s feet scurry quietly passed as he subtly departed. I was stranded and in trouble. My ear was bleeding, so I rolled with that side up and pretended unconsciousness, reviving only when I was sure that the two orangutans who deposited me in the garbage behind the establishment had been gone for at least ten minutes. Wakdjunkaga never apologized or afterward mentioned the incident.

A liar and a fake, he had stolen everything he was, almost, from others, mostly to impress women — his favorite pastime, even past eighty, followed by drinking, spinning stories, fabricating fabulous philosophies and playing practical jokes. He would rather sit than do anything active, and I was always amazed he was no fatter or flabbier than he was.

But these are virtues to some, I suppose. He was moreover a hypocrite, pretending thoroughly, perhaps even to himself, to be what he was not — Byronic, noble, athletic, wise, and everything anyone he might be with would admire. His world-wearied, quixotic, craggy countenance and expression helped him most in this. But I don’t think he ever fooled anyone for long: a failure sham.

And wordy. He probably talked from birth. He babbled constantly. About anything. But mostly about himself or his ideas — he was expert, or it least informed, on any subject ever conceived. Frequently, however, when he became excited or overly involved in what he was saying, he grew associative and incoherent and hard to follow.

He did know a good deal. His references and allusions often stymied me. But his opinions could change faster than Time magazine’s. He’d blithely contradict himself the day after expounding one position and then establish a third stance on the third day. And laugh at you if you pointed it out to him, and prove that he had held a fourth conciliatory opinion, which you were just too simple to comprehend, all the time. He was certainly never above insult or innuendo.

“Damn protestants,” he said once, “purifying the religion. Took everything interesting or challenging and threw it out. Made Christianity boring as hell. History’s gone downhill ever since the Reformation. Killed in the Renaissance anyway. Puritans and methodites — hate them all. Empty air and vacant gestures — that’s all they are.”

On another occasion: “Catholics? Ha! Them and their hodgepodge of a religion — patchwork little devotional empire founded in ignorance, Imperial Rome, Mithraism, anti-naturism and everything but the New Testament. I never could have imagined such an irrational, half-baked conglomeration if I had to.”

I expected him to tackle Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Communists, Buddhists, Taoists, psychologists, Republicans, sports fans and any other group of True Believers in the same way, but he never got around to it. I did ask him one time what he believed in. Anything? “Of course,” he sputtered gloriously, and then smiled, “but damned if I’ll ever tell you.” And he swilled a beer. He never told me, either.

More tomorrow…

Is it any good, readers? Although I never intended to finish this when I dictated from the xerox copy and decided to start posting it, I have been getting ideas. What do you say? Interesting? At all readable? What?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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