Monday, May 25, 2015

An Inherent Vice: A Very Short Story

Barefoot Days (M.A. Reilly, 2011)

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat...

 - Walt Whitman

I. A Short Story

I had forgotten.

Watching Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, I remembered. It was the filthy soles of Doc Sportello's feet that brought it back. My teenage years were spent barefoot. That was decades before bacterial soap would become a household norm, before grime and earth would frighten us, before worry became as commonplace as breath. Then late springs were more often about toughening the soles for a summer mired in gravel and tar.

Throwing off shoes and socks was akin to letting loose that wild animal that hid within our too-soft bodies. How could we know more than what we knew at that moment even if 8,000 miles away young boys we grew up with were dying?

A whole country was dying and all those summers we hitchhiked barefoot.
Went to concerts barefoot.
Walked in and around puddles barefoot.
Ignored the signs & shopped quickly at the A&P, darting between closing doors as the manager in his too-soft brown hush puppies rushed to catch us.
We nudged debris caught in the grooves of old rubber floor mats with our toes, arranging it as if it might reveal something we had lost.
We flicked lit cigarette butts away from our feet, watching how thin arcs of light illuminated darkness, briefly.
We walked across city streets, on dirt roads and through cold night sand--barefoot.

We were so beautifully careless.

And when late August turned cool, some found Birkenstocks tossed under beds or borrowed someone's Dr. Scholls or a pair of thick white socks--but more times than not we just pulled the frayed hems of worn bell bottoms beneath our heels. At dusk some lit punks, some passed joints, and lying back we felt the sweet coolness of grass beneath our feet.

Keeping Watch (M.A. Reilly, Plymouth, England, 2012)
 "Nothing is more misleading than a clear and distinct idea" (Louis de Broglie, p. 128).

II. What's Forgotten

I had forgotten.

Watching Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice, I remembered how way might not reveal way.  You see, it wasn't just the filthy soles of Doc Sportello's feet that wound me up as I watched scene after scene unfold all the while trying in earnest to recall the narrative until that too became too taxing, too misdirecting and I stopped wondering, What's the story, here?  and remained simply present.

And later, the very the phrase, inherent vice, kept nudging at something I thought might be important to know, something I might want to tell you.  And so I looked it up and learned:
An inherent vice is "the tendency of material to deteriorate due to the essential instability of the components or interaction among components" (from here). 
The made thing does not lasts. Even, memories, though sweet, are their own inherent vice. Something crucial right now is slipping, turning on itself like a scared animal cornered.

Somedays we move along and the way is forgotten. We move between order and disorder, barefoot or not.


  1. Love the story and images. So evocative. Is the first one a paper and glue collage? Or did you use some digital tool to make it? Very cool.

    1. Thanks Scott. The top image was made from torn newspaper and white gesso. I was showing high school students how to make a digital story/poem by making the images first. I show the whole project here: The spoken and visual poem

      Appreciate you taking time to look:)

  2. Your story is a very evocative moment from the time of Vietnam and very appropriate at this moment while we are still reflecting on the meaning of Memorial Day. I was also running barefoot while young men just a bit older than me were getting killed. Your post reminds me how being a part of that generation makes celebrating Memorial Day emotionally confusing.