Alec Bryan


You start out ankle deep but before you know it you’re up to your neck and the water is how high? Two feet high and rising mama, so goes the bathtub—so goes life. I got a man screaming in my ear, “The pain-body is a myth, a sad predicament egocentric humanity cannot break free of,” and I’m yelling back at him, “Egocentric and geocentric only need the order of one letter switched to be the same, let’s keep it heliocentric and that way no one gets hurt or confused. Besides, why regurgitate Eastern philosophy and pretend it is your own?” To deny suffering is to deny death is to strangle beauty is to murder ritual upon the altar of perpetual impotency. But this screamer made The Oprah Book Club, and therefore is considered gospel, and what have I made, me and my preference toward Ellen DeGeneres remain a mystery, a failure, unawakened to life’s purposes, and still struggling in my parent’s basement. But when we find me in the bathtub, I am away from home, in a stranger’s house who took me in. I have just had my eye removed, it had begun to shrink due to atrophy, and I have just been dumped by a really hot girl who had me talk her to bed at night over the phone. I got a patch for the eye, but not for the relationship. I have pneumonia, am about to start teaching sixth grade, and the world, spinning and spinning as it tends to do, makes no sense whatsoever. My ear is inclined to hear some other man, he may be a doctor I have visited, scream, “All vice, be it drunkenness, drugs, sex, religion, marathon-running, is just to numb the pain of existence and reconnect the soul before it suffers the wrenching reality of being separated from the womb,” and I’m yelling back at him, “I’ve out-drank the pain, out-drugged all names, out-sexed the brain, out-godded god, outran the soul during time trials, and am sitting formless on the banks of an endless ocean known as universe, my thoughtless form the hearse which will carry me past Buddha, through Nirvana, beyond celestial realms of Christianity, and I’m reminded of physical life only by a pebble in my shoe.

So I’m back from my trip past Nirvana and naked in the bathtub with the water rising how high? To my chin and rising mama, and I’m thinking pain is the gateway to bliss, but then the same innocuous and stunted thought enters my new-age head, I love this antiquated phrase from Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, how it soothes my soul: “Great waves rolled towards the shore with inexorable, appalling, silent power, pitched forward majestically, the swells shining like dark green metal, and plunged raucously onto the sand.” How to hear such words and not be entranced, not see the sea, be the sea, and for the moment, Mann has made me as expansive and constant as the ocean. How I would love to take this outdated phrase, with all its wordiness and compare it to blasé contemporary writing, but copyright infringement prohibits me, and perhaps Frazer’s The Golden Bough is all the more beautiful for its belief that mankind would continue to progress. If only we could believe such things. Have we really lost the need for Thomas Mann? I scream at modernity, “You never made me the ocean; all you gave me was a porcelain tub, and how to drown sorrows in such shallow depths?” But that’s the problem. Where is the depth?

So my first week of teaching sixth grade goes okay. The kids love me and I love them, but I foresee a problem: my principal hates me and I am indifferent to thee, do not pee my pants when she waves her au-thor-i-tee in my calm face. I’ve been to jail, bitch, so what does some power suit, power hungry woman waving her finger in my face provoke?—indifference. I meet another girl; she cleans my teeth, and I fall in love with her breasts and the way she swings a racquet when we play racquetball. She swings it with all the grace of a ballerina and yet with all the gracelessness of a shock-less truck chasing after a gazelle through the Serengeti—she rarely connects with the ball, but it makes it all the more beautiful, my Degas ballerina pirouetting, sports bra keeping her breast pressed firm to her body, left arm extended swan-broken-wing-like, while the right arm arcs the racket in a perfect swoosh precisely two inches above the blue ball. A miss, but even in failure some look more beautiful than others.

So I get fired from my job because of bending rules, apparently rules do not take after the reed but snap like the dragon if not adhered to. I lose my girlfriend around the same time, and the damn pipes in my trailer warned me when they froze that this would happen, as well as my damn voyeuristic flesh pipes that the doc probed, finding an enlarged and aggravated prostate at the age of thirty three. How could I have missed such blatant signals?
So I move home, and am now in my mother’s tub, the water flows faster, as youth and memory seem to be married to it, and some bubbles scream in my ear, “The water is how high?” Above my lips and rising mama, and I cannot make it onto Oprah because for that you need words, oh how you need non-lugubrious words, or a made up memoir about alcoholism, either works. But my lips are sealed, and I’m carried on a magic carpet past relationships, past flesh, past form, past the seventh chakra, and only does the pebble in my shoe bring me back to consciousness. And to start over, to rebuild sometimes requires effort beyond a beaten man. Why not succumb to the ocean? “Great waves rolled towards the shore with inexorable, appalling, silent power, pitched forward majestically, the swells shining like dark green metal, and plunged raucously onto the sand.” Soothing is it not? Can you not hear the ocean? What would you change from such a phrase? Would you make the metal translucent, like waves sometimes are? Would you edit the word majestically because it is an adverb and Hemingway forever stabbed the adverb into extinction? What, pray tell, need be changed? Nothing. Nothing need be changed, modified, contemporized, post-modernized, Californiarized-Texas-sized; let it soothe how it is.

So I keep submitting page after page to Oprah’s staff, but they don’t accept water-soaked pages and they claim without words they cannot publish anything, but they don’t know mama, the water is above the nose and rising. I’ve become pre-natal, and what it cost me to put an eyelash on a piece of paper and mail it to some staff reader. Oh the cost mama! And all I really wanted was to live when people jumped trains and Elvis played on the radio, but I’m too late, and my misunderstood writing reflects my truancy. “So misunderstood.” Words uttered by geniuses and idiots alike. But they just don’t get me. Just like my principal, just like my ex-girlfriend, just like society: “It’s my way or the highway,” but they are all looking for yellow lines which mark the path instead of the intricate and subtle play of black on black, which all good pavement demonstrates. They want the brushed up, painted on version—Botox life, and yet, I love fake boobs but hate how they got there.

So I refuse to work, refuse to become part of the system, go all Thoreau on society’s ass, only I don’t have a pond, I have a bathtub, and I don’t have time to detail just how white it is or that once the water reaches eye level the jets have already been turned on. With the eyes covered, of course the ears are too. I no longer hear the world, except when my mother asks me how I am doing. I hear her muffled words and I still can decipher her voice, I raise a pruned thumb to let her know I am doing well. Would it scare you if I grew a dorsal fin? Come on now, that is impossible. Of course I remain finless though I breathe underwater. And my vision sees things in the most peculiar way. Everything arrayed in translucence, in awesome Saran Wrap layers, swirling back and forth with asphyxiated syncopation, draws all water back to the primordial center of the first rain drop. But I have mimicked Mann in my phraseology, and in case you did not catch it, I have even let you know what a copycat I am. But why wrangle over words? My hurt has dragged me down to the bottom of a timeless woe, an egoless woe, a Kierkegaardian anguish, the woe of one single drop of water. Oprah cannot touch me now; there is no bestseller in my future, no Barnes and Noble on the horizon, I am alone in my tub.

How high’s the water mama? Boy you been swimming with the Pharaoh for weeks now! The Dead Sea or is it the Red Sea, I see no difference, I am at the bottom. Let the water rise, let it flood the nations, let the capitols drown in their own bathwater, it does not matter how high it rises when you have reached the bottom. And no one critiques the way I swim. Nor do they laugh at me when I recite in ecstasy the one timeless phrase: “Great waves rolled towards the shore with inexorable, appalling, silent power, pitched forward majestically, the swells shining like dark green metal, and plunged raucously onto the sand.”

“Drowning us all in their wake.”


Click here for Alec Bryan's bio