Friday, 16 September 2005

Doubling London; or, What to do with Dry, Dusty History On January 21, 1906, Jack London, three months divorced from Bess Maddern, three months married to Charmian Kittridge, entered Mrs. Stenberg’s Sacramento apartment with lascivious intent. Sometime that evening, Mrs. Selinger (a dear friend and frequent alibi of Mrs. Stenberg) informed the young adulterers of her encounter with a “Hindoo.” He threatened exposure, she said, though not in those words. The previous November, the Los Angeles Times had editorialized Jack’s divorce: “The Times suggests that the incident will serve well enough to call attention to the fact that the public is inclined to look more leniently on divorces where alleged ‘geniuses’ are concerned.” Now Jack knew the public will not look leniently on another divorce. He knew that this time it will frown on him “the same as upon all others who put themselves outside the pale of decency by reprehensible actions.” And what, Jack thought, what about Mr. Stenberg, branded a cuckold in boldface from Sacramento to New York City. He might respond with a reprehensible action of his own. “Pay the Hindoo what he wants,” Jack said. Months later, London explained his actions to a friend: “There’s no use getting them into trouble with their husbands, even if they are rattle-brained.” Later that same January night, at a meeting of the New York Educational Alliance, London entranced another sympathetic crowd with talk of the lucky cave man. “He Didn’t Have to Ask for the Right to Work,” read the byline the next morning. “If he woke up hungry he picked up his club and sallied forth.” London glanced down. He had first delivered this diatribe the previous March on the banks of the Sacramento River. He continued: “He was able, more or less, to satisfy his hunger. There was nobody between him and his work.” The Hindoo wanted too much. He wrote London every month. The letters were unsigned, but the Hindoo was unconcerned. Jack would know who he is. London continued to work. He completed Before Adam. On June 9, he mailed George Sterling the manuscript. “It’s just a skit, ridiculously true, preposterously real.” London implored him to “jump on it.” “I guess you know the thing’s pretty punk,” was Sterling’s reply, “or you’d not suggest that I roast it.” The Hindoo played both sides. He persecuted Mrs. Stenberg on Jack’s behalf, and London on Mrs. Stenberg’s or Mrs. Selinger’s. (Possibly his own.) His actions confused London, who no longer understood to whom he was beholden. He wrote Mrs. Stenberg: Now I am writing to you for information. I am the real Jack London. I don’t know you. I don’t know the Hindoo. I don’t know Mrs. Stenberg, much less love her. Was this all a concoction of yours, or did you really know some fellow who claimed that he was Jack London? Four days after finishing Before Adam, on June 14, 1906, London informed Elwyn Hoffman that “I undoubtedly have a double impersonating me.” In a letter written around the same time to A.L. Babcock, the...
On Jager; or, Drinking the Dissertation Away You know you've had a damn good day of dissertating when you finish it off with a paragraph which, upon reflection, sounds like it was written by a lunatic with nothing to lose and academia to gain. Or a drunk. (Different, as souvenir shirts once scattered across Southern Louisiana—mostly in the French Quarter but available everywhere come Fat Tuesday—different, that is, from alcoholics because drunks don't go to meetings.) Speaking of drunks, I like to drink. Because I'm a graduate student. And a drunk. But not an alcoholic. How do I know? Back when I had cancer and couldn't drink for fear of interfering with the chemo, it came to my attention that while I enjoy unwinding in the evening with a drink (or two or three or enough shots to send me bending for a fortnight), I hadn't reached the point where I needed a drink to unwind. Now maybe there's a stage in the writing process during which all dissertators drink a little more than they should or safely handle. If there is I haven't reached it. Because I can drink prodigious amounts of alcohol and feel nary a thing. To wit: This evening I've recreated a wonderful concoction named something like a Double Super Sucker Nipple Twister. It consists of Pineapple juice, Malibu Pineapple Rum and Jagermeister. Yes, Jagermeister. I know many of you will scoff when I say that my favorite mixed drink consists in part of a liquor reputed to contain the blood of Bambi's mother. I suffer this embarrassment not because of the blood of Bambi's mother, who according to Whit Stilman is responsible for the modern environmental movement, but because Jagermeister's the shot of choice amongst "shot connoisseurs" like all of these incredibly refined folk. (All of whom were found, I feel it necessary to add, by a Google image search for "Jagermeister." That such drunken revelry appears at the very mention of the drink's name should be damning. Should, I say, should. Not is. Bear with me.) So I have my cocktail, and it contains Jagermeister, and I have similar cocktails on a fairly regular basis. Or I have since I've kicked the cancer and worked in earnest on my dissertation. (Not that I wasn't working on it when I had cancer. I was. Only I wasn't working on it so well, what with the insomia and nausea and wanting to cry like a spoiled child all the time.) But I digress. From my digression. From this digression in a digressive post that people will undoubtedly think Jagermeister responsible for. Well, "people," I said I recreated a cocktail. I haven't started drinking it yet—and even if I had, my tolerance is so manly at this point that I could've downed a couple of shots of Jager, peirced my ears, stuck some clasps through them, attached said clasps to a keg of Jager and walked around some nondescript stage like that guy in that photo I've already linked to. I'm that manly. (Or...

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