mensah demary’s previous Liner Notes columns for The Butter can be found here.
I was in my ex-wife’s car the first time I heard Frank Ocean. Early summer, or late spring, in 2011—we were still married, still friends. Anyway, I remember the car because we had recently purchased it, albeit used—there was no “new car smell,” but it was steam-cleaned and fresh. She drove around town to run errands; I rode shotgun, probably staring down at my iPhone 4. It took a minute or so for me to notice that my head was bobbing to the music.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Frank Ocean,” she replied.
“Yes,” she said.
“Who’s Frank Ocean?” I asked.
I can be insufferable.
The song was “novacane” from Frank’s debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra. My then-wife gave me a copy, which stayed in my daily rotation for weeks. I remember being shocked at the sound quality of the mixtape; I don’t consider myself an audiophile, but I like to think I have an ear for clarity. Listening to Frank for the first time engendered feelings of clarity, or perhaps clarity itself—there was something fresh in his voice, his lyrics, and I heard Frank clearly.
The horse was too high. I was no coward. It’s just there was an assessment, and logic deemed the horse was way too high up.
I will never be good at selling things. Dad will never take the cookie sales sheet “to his work” and sell boxes by the dozen, yet I will covet the catalogue of prizes and imagine that thermos with the dancing samoa is mine.
Our most popular campfire song was a rousing but truly shuddersome ballad of the sinking of the Titanic. Pretty sure my mom was the one who taught it to the troop.
Despite reciting the pledge to “serve God and my country” in the Girl Scout Promise, the fact is that I do not believe in “deities” or “nation-states” and have no intention of rendering services unto them. Nor do I “help people at all times.” Right now I’m lounging barefoot in a papasan chair; I’m barely helping myself. As for living “by the Girl Scout Law,” I have never recognized the Girl Scouts as a legitimate legislative body.
One camping trip, I refused to go to the bathroom for at least two days in a row. The outhouse was weak. Not so my will.
Exactly twenty years ago, while I was on a 72-hour hold in a psych ward in San Francisco, a plump old hippie in all white asked me if I tried to kill myself. I laughed at him because I thought I had died. He smiled back and fondled his sandalwood beads.
“No,” I said. I didn’t remember wanting to die as much as wanting to kill the feeling. I’d been tweaking for weeks and the hostile whispers got louder as the twitchy nights whirled into days. I lived with my dealer and lover, Bree. We got into a screaming match, probably over who stole the stash, when I grabbed a serrated knife and held it high in the air like a tennis racket poised to serve. I flew at my wrist. That, I remembered. Wanting it to stop, wanting out of that fight. Wanting to keep the tiny bugs from marching up my calves — to win the argument once and for all. There was no stash. We’d done all of the speed.
I remembered Bree’s blood-soaked bandana tied around my wrist, our yellow kitchen tile in a puddle of my black blood. Red, glow-y ambulance lights because her green Karmann Ghia was out of gas. I remembered the empty gutted blankness that came to stay — finally, the cold and still silence.
I will fight you for dissing Shirley Jackson, I will straight-up fight you and punch you in the face, YOURS is a sorely limited talent:
And yet — why is the vacuum cleaner company not returning my calls? — as much as one wants Jackson to be a major writer, pulls for her in fact, to read her in any kind of bulk is to confront a sorely limited talent. Like Pluto, she is an interesting flyby but not quite a planet.
no, like I will FUCK YOU UP, SON:
There’s little emotional or intellectual complexity beneath her overdetermined surfaces. She went to the well too often for gimmicks. Reading the Library of America volume of her work, published in 2010 and edited by Joyce Carol Oates (whose fiction Jackson’s sometimes resembles), was like being clouted on the head with the same stick over and over again.