Cosmo di Madison: Unpublished Texts
(The following are notes based on a conversation with Cosmo di Madison. The conversation concerned the peninsula that juts out into Lake Mendota and that has been rather dully named Picnic Point by the revisionist authorities. At the time I wrote these notes, I put them in a folder with other things, neglecting to write them up into final form. The earlier Madison edition of Gospels from the Last Man was at the printers, and as I then considered it the definitive edition, the true history of Picnic Point has remained only partially revealed. I offer these notes now in an attempt to complete Cosmo di Madison's exposition of the meaning of the peninsula. The notes are mainly in the form of running quotes.)
"The peninsula is the last remains of a Stairway to Heaven built by the Phonecians, who were the Indians. It was built long before the English, Germans and French came to Wisconsin.
"When the stairway was finished, only the very pure would try to climb it. But if they made it to the top, they would realize they were not in the Heaven they thought they would find, but in the real Heaven, the Catholic Heaven.
"Many of them didn't know things rightly, but because of their just ways Jesus had pity on them and would let them come up. If their lives were accepted, they could be let in, after their souls were converted and properly purified.
"The ones who couldn't be accepted were thrown down the sides of the stairs. So the sides of the stairs became a fucking mess, and the Indians got the idea from all the blood and fucking carnage on the sides that the climb up the stairs was a challenge.
"But the ones that were thrown over just didn't lead acceptable lives. Or they stopped on the way up, which was fucking stupid, because if you were going to climb the Stairway you couldn't stop along the way. That was one of the rules. The ones who led proper lives could figure out the rules, but the ones who led evil lives had a different attitude about things.
"So it was a challenge. You had to be able to keep climbing, and it was a long climb.
"The Indians were in great shape, honey. It wasn't so hard for them to climb it. If they stopped along the way it was just because they wanted to waste time, or fuck around. But that was a mistake. Because they'd be sittin' there enjoying the view, scratching their balls, and all of a sudden an arm would come flying down from Heaven and whip them over the side. Shooo!" Cosmo di Madison mimics the arm whipping them over the side.
"It is hard for me to comprehend the Stairway," I say. "Why did they actually build it? It sounds to me like the Tower of Babel."
"God destroyed the Babel project because the people who built it were impure and had no chance of salvation. They even had the project of walking into Heaven with their weapons, which is stupid. I mean, how fucking stupid can you get? Can you picture those fucking idiots coming into Heaven with swords and spears? I mean: Duhhhhhh! Get some fucking brains, ya hear me? So the Tower of Babel was a fucking stupid project by a bunch of evil fucking idiots. The stairway in Madison was nothing like that. It began as a regular Phonecian building project. They didn't even want to reach Heaven at first, but just build a magnificent monument for the people. But God saw that the Indians had a chance for purity, that they led just lives, so one night He completed the stairway Himself. When they woke up, they could see the Stairway was different from when they left it."
"They could probably see it was much taller," I pointed out.
"The stairway became a Divine Work. It was a beautiful work in stone, it was a very solid structure. But you couldn't see that it reached all the way to Heaven. That was impossible to see just by looking at it. That's impossible. The upper parts were purely abstract."
"So the top of the stairway was abstract? In what way?"
"The top of the stairway was not a part of this material realm."
The Japanese singer Shuko Yanagisawa has much to relate concerning the gallantry of Cosmo di Madison. Apparently our man is not in the least put off by her stunning beauty and fame, and knows just the words and tone likely to win her over.
One night Shuko was talking with her friend Kyoko at Amy's. Cosmo di Madison slid into an empty chair at their table and began discussing this and that: the day's political events, his backbreaking police work, the reasons for the abnormal weather. From these less pressing topics, he deftly steered the conversation around to the following suggestion:
"Why don't you ladies just c'mon and join me up in my apartment? First you can heat me up some warm milk in the kitchen, and then you can both be my blanket. C'mon. What d'ya say?"
(Because of the modesty of Japanese women, I never expect to find out whether this line worked or not.)
On another occasion, Cosmo di Madison was talking with Shuko in the cafe when he suggested the two of them go outside together for a smoke.
"C'mon, Honey, let's go do some smoky-smoky," is how he put it.
It was outside, out of the earshot of the cafe crowd, that Cosmo di Madison expounded to Shuko the reasons for his attentions to her.
"Do you know why I like you, honey?" he asked.
"Why?" wondered Shuko Yanagisawa.
"I like you because you smell like Mama," said Cosmo di Madison, taking the last drag from his cigarette and flicking the butt in the gutter. "C'mon, let's go back in. It's fucking cold out here."
A few days after this declaration, Cosmo confided in me his love for Shuko. We were sitting together in his apartment.
"She's so sweet," he said. "I love her so much, Eric. She's such a honey. Ya hear me?"
"I hear ya, Doll."
"What am I gonna do when she goes back to Japan?" he wondered. "I don't know," I said. "Probably you'll have to stop off there when you're on one of your Asia missions."
"Hmmm," agreed Cosmo di Madison, thinking already about how often he may be able to manage it.
"I know what I'm gonna do!" he decided suddenly, standing up from his chair and beginning to pace about the room. "I'm gonna give her one of my diamond mines in Indonesia. She'll like that, won't she?"
"I hear Indonesia's very beautiful," I said.
"She'll love it! We'll give her the diamond mine, and then I'll make her my wife."
"Your eighteenth?" I asked.
"I'll treat her like a queen," he assured me, gesturing at some of the art treasures here and there about the room. "She'll be my queen, ya hear me?"
"She'll be very happy," I agreed.
Cosmo di Madison sat back down again, and his brows knit heavily, as if he had suddenly discovered some hitch in the plan. I waited to hear what it was.
"She's so sweet, Eric," he said. "Ya hear me? I love her so much." And so the conversation continued.
Cosmo di Madison usually gets on well with the Greeks and Moroccans who frequent Amy's Cafe. This should be no surprise, as many of them work undercover for him. But recently things don't seem to be going so well.
"I'm sick of these fucking Greeks and all these fucking Arabs around here fucking things up," he complains in obvious exasperation. "They should just go back to their desert and get off of my fucking oasis. Ya hear me? Get the fuck out of Cosmo's Central Wisconsin Oasis! I've had it with these people."
I ask Cosmo what went wrong.
"Basically they're not doing anything for me," he complains. "All they're good at is stealing my money, and I'm getting fucking tired of it. They're all crazy too, ya hear me? Bunch of fucking kooks."
"What are you going to do about it?" I wonder.
"What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna start the Freddy Kruger business again," he says decisively, referring apparently to the bogeyman from the horror movie Nightmare on Elm Street. (Though I've never seen this film, I remember the poster. It featured a leering, horrible old man with a scarred and greenish face and sharpened, seven-inch fingernails.)
I ask him just what it would mean to "start the Freddy Kruger business again." What, exactly, would Cosmo do?
"I am Freddy Kruger," Cosmo tells me. "I faked my death, and now I'm back. It's time for Freddy Kruger. Freddy Kruger all over again, ya hear me?"
The thought of it is truly scary. I am glad I am not one of Cosmo di Madison's enemies, as I would not like to see him in my own nightmares, which are bad enough as it is, what with sharks and spies and twisted, eroticized incarnations of certain of my elementary school teachers. The Freddy Kruger business. Would this then be Nightmare on Elm Street II? But now that I think of it, I seem to remember that there already was a Nightmare on Elm Street II. And a III as well. Hmm. So what Nightmare on Elm Street are we up to by now? How many more are we going to have to sit through? I don't know. But as I watch Cosmo snarling and practicing his Freddy Kruger, there at the chair across from me, I think just how lucky I am that I've never stolen a penny from this man, and I wonder if I should indeed warn Faisal, Antony and Mustaphah that it is time to pack their things and skip town.
(This and the following texts were written after my move to Taipei in late 1996.)
August, 1997. I hadn't seen Cosmo di Madison for nearly a year, and had only spoken with him a few times by phone during my absence. He proved maddeningly difficult to reach by phone from Taipei, and besides he was nearly always unwilling to speak frankly about things over the line. Upon my arrival in Madison, I rang him up.
"Hello, Cosmo, how have you been?"
"Is that you, Eric?"
"Yes, it's me, doll. I'm in town."
"Where are you?"
"I'm staying at a friend's place on the east side. I want to see you."
"Come downtown today," he said. "I'll be at Steep 'n Brew."
"I'll come down."
"Will you be there in about an hour?"
"An hour is fine. I'll be there."
"I love you, Eric."
An hour later I was sitting in the window of Steep 'n Brew drinking one of their iced coffees--still the world's best. Then I saw him stride up the sidewalk and enter the shop. Wearing longer hair now, an unzipped black leather vest with nothing under it, and skin-tight leopard-spotted lyotards, he was still the man I remembered him to be. We hugged warmly as the new staff looked on from behind the counter. Cosmo di Madison got an icy and sat down.
"How is it over there in China?" he asked me right off.
"It's fine," I said. "What has been happening here?"
"It's getting better there," he said. "It's because of me. You know it, don't you? The Chinese are starting to respect their ancient wisdom again. It's been hard, but they're learning. A lot of them forgot."
"Cosmo," I said, reaching over to touch the top of his head, "Cosmo, you're balding."
"What do you mean?"
"Look," I said, pointing to the bald spot. "Right there. You're starting to lose your hair."
"I'm not balding," he said with a smirk.
"What do you mean? Look!"
"It's not the same thing," he said, with a wave of his hand.
"What do you mean?" I continued--for he was grinning dismissively, not actually offended by my insistence--"How can it not be the same thing? You're starting to lose your hair."
"No, that's not it," he replied. "It's not the same thing."
"How is it not the same thing?"
"My wives always like to rub the top of my head," he said. "They like to rub my head every night. It causes my hair to fall out."
"Is this true?"
"You bet it is, doll. Of course it is. If you had women rubbing your head all the time like me, your hair would fall out too. Sometimes they even want to suck my head. I'm lucky I have any hair left. Ya hear me?"
The staff was standing there laughing at our discussion. They certainly didn't even know I was the Man's scribe: so much have I done for Madison, and I'm not even recognized there--there in the heart of town.
"It's good to see you, Cosmo."
"I miss you, Eric," he said. "But let's get some more icies." And then, turning to the two new staff members slacking next to the espresso machine: "Hey, what are you pumpkins doing standing there when my friend needs an icy! C'mon, hop to it! Two icies on the double!"
I was standing before the cafe counter with Cosmo di Madison. I took a crisp $1,000 Taiwan bill out of my wallet and showed him the smiling man on the back.
"Do you know who this is, doll?" I asked him.
"Of course I know who it is," he replied. "Grandpa was a great man."
He grabbed the bill out of my hand and showed it to the geeky staff person behind the register.
"Doesn't he look like me, Luke? Doesn't he look like me? I miss grandpa," said Cosmo di Madison sadly, turning back to me. "I think about him every day."
"I didn't know Chiang Kai-Shek was your grandpa, Cosmo," said Luke, surprising me with his historical wisdom.
"You knew he was. I told you so. You just forgot."
And then, turning to me: "These people don't listen like you did, Eric. It's not the same as when you were here. Ya hear me?"
And Luke, much to my chagrin, even tried to charge him for his iced coffee. Things were not the same indeed.
September, 2002. Phone discussion with Cosmo di Madison. Everything is pretty much as usual. He tells me he's having trouble getting money because his accounts are being siphoned off by his corrupt relatives and the woman impersonating his mother. He's also having trouble with the young George Bush.
"We give him the speech to memorize, and when he goes out and gives the speech he changes everything and fucks it all up."
I was happy to learn he was back in the cafe and that the staff treats him well. There were a few years when they made themselves part of the conspiracy against him.
Thom Smit and the Bible
Do any of you remember Thom Smit? I quoted him several times in The Clay Testament. He was a good friend and comrade of mine when I was working at the cafe in Madison. I have no idea where he is today.
That useless fucking bastard calls himself a fucking lieutenant major, but he's just a fucking high school dropout drug addict who couldn't tell his ass from a hole in the ground if his life depended on it.
These are some words I wrote down in 1991 or '92 about Smit. I was recently looking through an old notebook when I found this sentence. It evidently comes from my friend and mentor Cosmo di Madison. In the notebook I followed the quoted sentence with three questions:
But can you tell your ass from a hole in the ground? Do you know the works and days of man, and the seasons and times? Can you read the flights of birds, and see the fate of nations in a gopher's guts?
Evidently these three questions were to be addressed to Cosmo di Madison himself. Probably they were meant to be Smit's reply to Cosmo's criticism, a reply I was voicing for him. But certainly no one ever spoke them to Cosmo.
I know that in those days Smit was reading the Pentateuch at my behest, and I was always reading the Bible and rereading Rabelais. Our written cafe exchanges came to take on a peculiarly biblical-parodic character. Cosmo di Madison's manner of speaking about Smit (and about so many others besides) infected my writing about him, and I remember handing Smit a few more pages of a "Testament of Thom Smit" every couple days. His only lengthy entry in this collaboration was a cosmological text, the text with which he started the exchange, and the one which came to take on the place of Genesis in this slowly growing tradition. That was Smit's main entry, but I remember him adding paragraphs here and there. I've lost quite a few of the pages of that Pseudo-Scripture, something which saddens me now, as I almost feel like taking it up again, so warmly do I remember the conjunction between Rabelais, Cosmo di Madison, the self-proclaimed Nietzschaen Smit, myself, and heavy doses of caffeine; so warmly do I remember those days of true exchange.
It strikes me now that those months were some of the best I've ever gotten out of literature, that such an exchange with a coworker in a State Street caffeine dump may really be the warmest I will ever have. What does this say about my dream--the dream of finding consonance with a few others who would take up their pens in a like mode with me? Every day I write, and every day I feel it is less and less likely there is even one other in the world who will feel compelled upon reading what I wrote to write to me in response, to write in the margins of my text, to begin the kind of game that is Literature. I am uncertain whether this loneliness indicates a problem with my writing (I am a lousy writer) or a problem with my dream (it is and has always been a chimera: impossible) or a problem with the state of readers and writers in the world (literature is dead). Whichever of these best explains my isolation is not as important as the fact of this isolation: namely the fact that I feel it goes on and on.
I remember I had provoked the "Nietzschaen" Thom Smit into studying the Pentateuch by showing him a page from Blanchot's The Writing of the Disaster, a page on which Blanchot considers Nietzsche's reading of the Bible:
Nietzsche: "In the Jewish 'Old Testament,' that book of God's justice, we encounter men, events and utterances of such great vitality that neither Greek nor Hindu literature offers anything comparable. One is seized with fear and respect before these prodigious vestiges of what man once was, and one entertains sad reflections about ancient Asia and her advanced peninsula, Europe, which claims to incarnate vis-a-vis Asia 'the progress of man.'..." --"To have stuck onto the Old, this New Testament--this monument in every respect to a rococo taste--in order to join the two in a single book, the Bible, the Book par excellence: this is perhaps the greatest imprudence, the greatest 'sin against the spirit' that modern literature has on its conscience." What does Nietzsche mean here? He is speaking of style and taste, of literature, but his use of these words elevates what they convey. And I take note of this: he mocks Greek civilization no less than Christian. Elsewhere, Christianity is praised for having been able to maintain respect for the Bible, even if it did so by forbidding that the Bible be read: "The way in which respect for the Bible has been maintained on the whole up until our own time constitutes perhaps the best example of the discipline and cultural refinement that Europe owes to Christianity: books of this profundity--receptacles of an ultimate significance [my emphasis]--need to be protected by a tyrannical exterior authority in order to be sure of that duration of several thousands of years which is necessary for exhausting their meaning and comprehending it fully."... Likewise, in another book, but in practically the same terms: "The Old Testament is really something! Hats off to the Old Testament! Here I find great men, a heroic landscape and one of the rarest things in the world, the incomparable naivete of the robust heart; and furthermore, I find a people."
There are many things in these passages I hold dear. One of them is the definition of Europe as an advanced peninsula of ancient Asia. That suggests a notion of Europe that I have long held to. Another is the valuation of Jewish literature over that of the Greeks. A third is Nietzsche's recognition of the importance of the Church's authoritarian role in maintaining a respect for the Bible, even, as Blanchot paraphrases, if that meant forbidding that the Bible be read.
Nietzsche's taste in letters has always been oddly in harmony with my own. Some of the texts that sent the German philosopher into transports of admiration: Sterne's Tristram Shandy, the novels of Dostoyevsky, the Old Testament. Here are some of the texts that have most sent me into transports.
the Sacramentality of Writing
God formed man of the clay of the ground and then breathed into him the breath of life. The clay of the ground as material and the breathing in of the breath of life: these have been the focus of most concern in our literature and speculation. And the question of what the breath of life may be has been recurrent. But the question of the forming, the verb forming, hasn't raised our attention in the right way. And yet everyone knows--the Sumerians and Babylonians knew--that the pressing of marks into the clay was the crucial part of this forming. It was the pressing of marks, the right marks, that gave the clay the dignity needed for its reception of the breath of life.
The clay as result of this writing is clay that may receive the breath of life if only this breath be given it.
It is in this sense originally that writing is a sacrament.
Adam was a short beast, with a thin line of hair down his back, like a mane. Eve had a thin line of hair down her back; it was like a mane.
In those days, when you came into town, a stranger, you could always recognize Adam and Eve, because they were the only ones without navels.
The first writing was by Cain, who started by drawing pictures on his parents' bellies. Their bellies were smooth, and had no navels. Cain would ask them to lie back by the fire, and close their eyes, and he would draw. When he was done, they would open their eyes and look at what he had drawn.
Once Cain drew an unheard of thing. It was such a thing, that when God saw it, he let it stay on Eve's belly as punishment. God punished Eve for the evil sport she had fallen into. It could not be washed away, but stayed on Eve's belly. For they had fallen into an evil sport.
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