Here’s Mr. Fuck-You, Okay? (eponym of Tom Bradley’s Surreal Worlds story) in melancholy retirement.
(Previously published in Imperial Youth Review.)
by Tom Bradley
The pen is the tongue of the brain.
Before Dai Nippon‘s main island was turned into a nuclear dead zone, it would sometimes feel the sole of my foot. I’d ride the ferry boat from the figurative leper isolation colony that constitutes my secret place of banishment, and visit my old friend, Fukuoka-sensei.
He was remotely antique and elegant. The latter quality has always taken an emetic effect on my stomach lining; but Fukuoka-sensei wore it well, in his indigo robes and satin slippers that whistled along the quaintly traditional rice straw mats in his tiny paper home.
His English was impeccable. At first I assumed it must have been gotten purely through books, as is the case with so many venerable gentlemen of the Extreme Orient. But occasionally tinctures of American idioms would seep in, substandard usages and even the odd vulgarism, all belonging to a certain specific region and epoch. So I asked him if he’d been there.
He averted his eyes and replied, “I’d rather not speak about that.”
It took me four ferry boat rides, over the course of an entire year, to get him to allow that he’d been there. “All right, yes,” he sighed. “Forty years ago I was foolish enough to try teaching at a private college preparatory institution. It was a hell-hole deep in the Mormon Mecca.”
As far as that prep school can be reconstructed from Fukuoka-sensei‘s reluctant reminiscences, it seems to have been the only place in the region pretentious enough, in those pre-“economic miracle” days, to offer classes in Nihongo. The board members were too rich and powerful to trouble themselves with the small matter of faculty accreditation.
And it was there that “Mr. Fukuoka” (as he was called in context) encountered the graphological phenomenon of Biffy Wamsutter.
The Wamsutter brat’s ideograms lost their barbarian squareness halfway through the first lesson. Fukuoka-sensei told me he’d never seen anything like it. The horrible boy’s precocious virtuosity extended with equal ease from ink and brush to ballpoint, to chalk, to Ticonderoga two-point-five–any medium, in fact, including spraypaint on brick walls (his favorite). He could imitate the vastly divergent styles of Mao and Zhou Enlai, and almost anybody else, except the great Japanese calligraphers, at whom he wouldn’t deign to glance. And he boasted about doing all of his homework and much of his classwork on “heroic doses” of mescaline and psilocybin.
“No problem,” Biffy would say, and strut his noodle-thin two meters in front of the blackboard, his bluish eyeballs swimming behind stye-swollen lids. “It’s not as though you have to achieve chiaroscuro or perspective or anything like that. This is a non-art, contrived for no other reason than to flatter the mediocrity Confucianism thrives on. It’s two-dimensional and decorative, like interior design: the kind of thing that gives fags tiny brittle boners.”
A whole sentence of Biffy’s characters could look like a rout of Hieronymous Bosch’s orgiasts cavorting without joy on the lip of some narcotized Gehenna, a disproportionate number of them seeming to lose at least one forearm to the ravenous anal jaws of their androgynous partners. He could turn every new kanji into something that elicited wicked snickers and cries of “Asemic, ma-a-a-an!” from the other youngsters. With equal ease, he coaxed moans of stunned enchantment from both sides of the teacher’s podium. With his left hand this cruel bully-boy could dash off a character that possessed more virtu than all the labored-over scribbles ever wrought at midnight by his lonesome teacher. And Mr. Fukuoka had to fight a life-death struggle with murderous envy, every fourth period.
“I intend to read Lu Xun and the other red-hot mainlanders,” Biffy puffed one afternoon, the salty Utah sun blasting off his unbrushed orthodontia. “Who have the Nips to offer? Yukio Mishima?”
And, of course, by that late date, all it took was the bare mention of the beautiful writer’s name to bring down the house, as it were. Demolished, for the remainder of the period, was any vestige of the Asian-style teacher-veneration that Mr. Fukuoka had tried to establish, in his fervid desire to saturate the children in Yamato culture.
Biffy incited the sluttier cigarette-husky girls and the more gorgeous boys to dub Mr. Fukuoka “Yucky Mishy-mash,” and to snuggle up to him in the lunch hall, tickling, whispering and insinuating a physical resemblance between their Japanese teacher and that brilliant fascist novelist.
“Whence derives the uncanny, malignant telepathy of Caucasoid youth?” Fukuoka-sensei asked me one day as we knelt at his delicate lacquerware table and sipped unfermented tea. “Have they emotional X-ray machines built into their blond heads? They’re the best argument in favor of the existence of Romish Lucifer’s legions that I’ve ever encountered in my life.”
Though I was once a “Caucasoid youth” myself, I was no less mystified than my honorable host. How could the kids have known that their teacher sometimes secretly blushed in restroom mirrors and shop windows, and quietly flattered himself that he looked, from behind at least, a bit like a shorter version of that famous Nihonjin?
When the news of Yukio Mishima’s death reached the eyes and ears of teenaged Salt Lake City (a couple of years late, of course, tardy as the moribund Maoist myth), the Wamsutter brat used it to torment and test Mr. Fukuoka even further. He began bringing blown-up xeroxes of the mad genius’ narcissistic photos of himself in nothing but a loincloth, and parading them around the room.
In extreme old age, my sad friend was nothing like what the little sociopaths would’ve called a “swisher.” And I assume his mannerisms hadn’t been much broader four decades earlier. But still, with all the pernicious clairvoyance of godless adolescence, his students were able to surmise the nature of certain personal proclivities with which, he assured me, he had “never asked to be born.” And, though among their own ranks they counted a disproportionate number of children who shared, both latently and blatantly, those same tendencies, they still sizzled with glee each time Biffy’s flaunted Mishima photos succeeded in nailing their “teachie-poo-sensei” behind his desk with involuntary penile erections. His charges took advantage of his paralysis to run amok.
With a shudder, he told me about the time Biffy smuggled in an issue of the National Geographic that featured a breathtaking pictorial on the Haddaka Matsuuri in Okayama. There were splendid full-page, strobe-lit shots of three thousand gleaming young men in nothing but loincloths, purifying themselves by pouring cold water over each other, and scrambling through the Saidaji Temple, under the anonymity of midnight darkness, to gain possession of a pair of holy amulets.
“I guess the cold water is to prevent things from getting really out of hand, huh, Sensei?” taunted Biffy, rubbing his forearm from wrist to elbow. “I mean, a law-abiding country like Japan can’t permit its young men to have bloody orgies and cannibal holocausts, right? At least not on Japanese soil. We can’t have the youth engaging in public displays of” (shifting into a camp lisp) “fisticuffs.”
As always, that word brought the whole class, even the nice virginal prepubescent boys, to their knees with laughter. Other flippant voices joined in, cracking with sadistic delight and hormonal upheaval. The students did not forget to raise their pale hands first, as though classroom deportment hadn’t already been pulverized.
“How come only dorks and frat-rats do stuff like this in America?”
“Do you think the Saidaji monks could recruit even thirty guys, let alone three thousand, if somebody put the word out that girls were interesting people, too?”
“Mr. Fukuoka? Why do you suppose this kind of festival is necessary only in countries where everybody’s so polite?”
“Sensei, exactly what shape and size are these two amulets?”
“Oooh, yes, I do indeed love a good amulet!”
“Teachie-poo!” squawked the Wamsutter brat, “I believe I’ve experienthed an awakening of thorts!” He stuck out his elongated buttocks and duck-waddled among the desks, actually breaking wind in the faces of the females–
“–who seemed to love it!” marveled my friend, still appalled after all these decades.
Mr. Fukuoka pleaded to be transferred to proctor sophomore home-room instead of junior. And he was promised that next year, by which time it would be too late, he could. But there was no “switching horse’s-asses in midstream,” which was the Latter-Day-Saintly way of saying that nobody else wanted, every morning of his or her working life, to face the fatal combination of Biffy and an appreciative audience of splinter-Mormon boarding students from the uncivilized southern desert.
The vicious young goon daily took pains to make it clear that, since there was nary a Mandarin teacher in all the Intermountain West in those days of the Cultural Revolution on the Asian mainland, it was only by default that he’d enrolled himself in Japanese class (and, along with him, unfortunately, his retinue of Satanic lieutenants, the pagan polygamist spawn). He was there, he emphasized through word and gesture, for no other reason than to learn the “alphabet of Chairman Mao” (who, of course, by that time had already lost at least ninety-five percent of his cachet among adult intelligentsia).
The Wamsutter brat troubled himself with neither the kana nor the conversation units, and made vulgar restroom sounds with his lips during dictation and language lab exercises.
“I can always mail-order whatever diplomas I require from the back pages of Hustler,” he said one night at a student-teacher-parent conference. Biffy smiled on his sensei with a chilling tenderness, mirrored from the other side of the table by his sick nightmare of a female parent, the upper-crust Mormoness, Mrs. Wamsutter.
Mr. Fukuoka had been forced, at the hands of this woman’s un-house-trained whelp, to suffer the worst consequences of a sexuality which, in those days, at that time, was deemed abominable. By a sheer self-abnegating act of pious will, by “going cold turkey,” as the dope-addicted students would solemnly put it, Mr. Fukuoka had sacrificed the health of his atrophying prostate gland, the better to concentrate on the pursuit of his vocation, to spend his nights alone grading piles of student kanji exercises. He had nurtured his ardent, isolated soul, in spite of the mortification it brought to his heart, by masturbating all over Biffy’s themes–
“–so beautiful that at times it was necessary to hold them over a candle to make sure they were composed of mere markings on paper!”
It was impossible to shake off the agonizing awareness of the vast loss to the world that the Wamsutter boy’s tragic strain of self-destructiveness entailed. Nevertheless, it must have been a delicious privilege to flat-out-flunk this gross buffalo with gifted fingers instead of manure-caked hooves.
“I trust you’ll be unsurprised to hear that my pedagogical maneuver troubled neither Biffy nor his m-m-m–” Fukuoka-sensei gagged on the M-word.
As regards the latter personage, my old friend had particular notions, which he punctuated with a gradual crescendo of fists on the fragile table. “Grendel’s dam,” he began, “with grisly grasp…monster of women responsible for unleashing this kin of Cain upon the earth–if I may paraphrase the national epic of the accursed race that bred this monster of students–”
“My race, too, Sensei,” I meekly interjected.
As he gnashed his linguistic fangs deeper into this evocation of Biffy’s mom, ceramic cups and saucers bounced higher and higher, flinging tea in chartreuse arcs around my head.
“She was the very personification of that long-standing, light-colored, yeasty-smelling species of mucus that dai bize teenagers dig out of the hard-to-reach crannies of their behemoth noses when boredom has inspired their unmanicured index fingernails to new heights of contortion. And they knead it into a missile and fling it to adhere to the bulletin boards their sensei spent all weekend making beautiful with ukiyoe reproductions, and–”
Fukuoka-sensei began smashing the ink sticks that I was supposed to be grinding. He snatched a rare marten-hair calligraphy brush from behind my ear and sent it like a pub dart through the rice paper panel behind me.
“I know these dried-up furui gaikokujin baishun,” he cried. “This Wamsutter harridan deserved the face and body that caused her own son to mock her during dull moments in my class. Twisted priorities bring about ugliness and dissolution. How many lies had this creature fed herself over the decades, to draw that face in upon itself in a permanent rictus of sexuality and Death? What did Biffy call her behind her back? Death Lady?”
The more unbookish locutions of seventies America came to the fore, and Fukuoka-sensei began to display, in spurts and flashes, a near-native grasp of my own boyhood’s idiom. This was surprising in a man who’d only managed to stomach my homeland for a single academic year. Having been a guest on his archipelago for more than half of my own overripe life without learning to construct a simple Nihongo sentence, I was impressed with what I heard emanating from between my mentor’s boneless gums.
“Mrs. Wamsutter’s piety came straight from the crotch. Her overstimulated American mind kept telling her that she was sexy, and should behave that way, like Doris Day in white tennis panties; but her old lady crotch was mainly concerned with post-menopausal plumbing. So this constant psychic tickling of her urogenital tract brought about bladder infections. And her form of divinely orgasmic revelation was to pay the local Latter-Day-Saint quack healer several hundred–er, what’s the word, bucks?– to inflate her piss-bag and shove a periscope up her urinary meatus in search of–”
At this point, our penmanship class having been disrupted, I decided it was time to board the ferry and return to the more wholesome environs of my leper isolation colony.
Tom Bradley has published twenty-five volumes of fiction, essays, screenplays and poetry. Various of his novels have been nominated for the Editor’s Book Award, the New York University Bobst Prize, and the AWP Series. 3:AM Magazine in Paris gave him their Nonfiction Book of the Year Award in 2007 and 2009.
His journalism and criticism have appeared in such publications as Salon.com, and are featured in Arts & Letters Daily. Denis Dutton, editor of the site (“among the most influential media personalities in the world,” according to Time Magazine), wrote as follows:
Tom Bradley is one of the most exasperating, offensive, pleasurable, and brilliant writers I know. I recommend his work to anyone with spiritual fortitude and a taste for something so strange that it might well be genius.
This Wasted Land and Its Chymical Illuminations is the third book for which Tom has supplied footnotes.
OTHER BOOKS ANNOTATED BY TOM BRADLEY
What Kane X. Faucher and Tom Bradley have done is like going into Top Drawer Writer’s Cemetery and having all the authors suddenly emerge from their tombs and start talking–and suddenly Bradley’s notes turn it from pure fantasy into total believability. A fascinating combo of resurrection and meditation. One of the most original/unexpected books ever written. If you want to get into the souls of these authors, this is the place to start.
–Hugh Fox, author of Shaman
A recursive, self-annotating romp through Arno Schmidt-like text commenting on text, annotating text, contradicting text. The later “Tablets” by Armand Schwerner also comes to mind. The effect is dizzying, hillarious, mystifying, Rabelasian, and is pulled off well. Faucher and Bradley are possessed of curvaceous minds which frame capacious thoughts which should be caught in mid-flight and unhusked by the prehensile wits of a wide range of readers.
–Jesse Glass, author of Lost Poet
A dog-whistle palimpsest, a riddling box of questions left unfinished at the author’s death, a Winchester Mystery House of a book with graffiti notes from an alternative Zoharistic universe and illustrations transcribed from the depths of Bohu-Tohu, Felicia’s Nose is an experimental novel based on the ‘call and response’ of an arcane Blues: the eternally absent author unraveling a tale from the other side of life, and the very much alive Tom Bradley answering each movement of the planchette with a drum roll cursive freighted with sentiments worthy of Sabattai Zvei.
–Jesse Glass, author of Lost Poet
…that rarity of rarities: a new genre, something like a superficially nonfictional Pale Fire, taking place in real time as the primary text alternately rides roughshod over, and is sapped and subverted by, the critical apparatus.
–Carol Novack, author of Giraffes in Hiding
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A complex and multi-layered dance between these two offbeat geniuses. Takes off in a high octane rampage, thunders across the defiled plains of Kansas, corners around the pope, takes multiple shots at our flabulous and star-struck culture, and brings you back for a three-martini lunch, looking brain-raped and fuddled.
–Deb Hoag, editor of Women Writing the Weird
Bradley’s unprepuced poetry entering Aronson’s debauched images make a demented and unholy intercourse. Canto after canto churns with the wordplay of the damned, with sin and sacrilege and trespass. Join these seductive souls in their satanic search for meaning when all is lost and for God when you are in hell.
–Larissa Shmailo, author of Exorcism
…a lush garden of terror teeming with vividly nightmarish imagery. Tears through sexual stereotypes with a meat hook.
–Rania Sada, author of Egyptian Exotica: A Memoir of Dancing Naked
This is Bhagavad-Gita porn.
–Jonathan Penton, publisher
Of Aleister Crowley’s many fictionalizations, this novel gets best into his head. Erudite, prideful, lascivious, funniest man of his time, and the mightiest spiritual spelunker–he speaks and shouts from these pages as clearly as he did in his Autohagiography, which is paradoxical, given the irreal setting of Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia.
—Barry Katz, HTMLGIANT
Reading Elmer Crowley is like reading Crowley’s inner dialogue at 3am, after an intensive journey into his own inner abyss. It is, therefore, a magickal working that Crowley himself would be proud of.
–Gwendolyn von Taunton, author of Northern Traditons
Tom Bradley dismantles and re-welds biography, novel, creative non-fiction and metaphysical treatise into a bizarre satire… Readers willing to navigate outside the usual throughways will find themselves in the higher vistas of this rich and complex tome.
–-John-Ivan Palmer, Fortean Times
This book…captures the feel of Crowley with his bawdy, politically incorrect irreverence, his arrogance and his committed magickal spirituality and awareness.
–-Charlotte Rogers, author of P is for Prostitute
The voice is dead perfect…I can’t imagine a hip Thelemite NOT having this book in her library.
–Don Webb, former High Priest, Temple of Set
This self-described “picaresque graphic novel” reads like an account of Crowley’s death-bed fever dream or an afterlife bardo journey gone terribly wrong, wherein the fifty-eight Wrathful Deities take on the aspect of warped and sinister versions of Looney Toons archetypes…. the result reads like a trippy, post-mortem, long-lost epilogue to The Confessions.
–Richard Kaczynski, author of Perdurbo: The Life of Aleister Crowley
…a monstrosity of the imagination, as if a Burroughs virus hijacked the machinery of Finnegans Wake and replicated itself as a literateratus.
–John-Ivan Palmer, author of Motels of Burning Madness
The fastenings and joineries of this new textual and graphic ubiety are measured in callibrations from some other dimension where the usual sockets and taper points of critical disassembly have to be replaced. Even with that, Family Romance is deviously structured to lead conclusion jumpers straight to the Hall of Laughter.
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