Joe Williams's final word


Hurry up please, it's time....

Final thoughts on the Alumverse? That's a very complicated question.

Ecce verbum.

I often reply to questions by saying, "That's a very complicated question." Because...they all are.

I think back to where I was back then. You know. Before. Ah, yes.... Then. Deep into OJ decompression. Or deprivation. You choose your poison you die your death. If you name it, you will make it real. I name things very carefully.

I'm one of those people who organized their lives around the OJ Spectacle. Although not watching every minute of all the testimony (like the real nuts, I could certainly never fit in with real nuts, no, not me), I nonetheless watched every day, courtesy of the Court TV channel, catching the first hour or two of proceedings (East Coast time allowing me to lunch as the Left Coast day began for Marcia and Chris and Hank Goldberg (whose part can only be adequately portrayed on the big screen by Stan Laurel)) and the last three or four hours of testimony after work, followed closely by the premier postgame show, Geraldo on CNBC. I was further aided by the CNN late night round-up, occasional Nightlines, the network evening newscasts, Dominick Dunne on CBS Fridays and Vanity Fair monthly, various other print media, Charles Grodin Wednesday nights, the great trash triumverate ACurrentAffairHardCopyInsideEdition, and so forth.

Naturally OJ was guilty in the sense that he actually slaughtered those two people on that dark June night, but it was clear from the outset that he would never be convicted, so that my own psychic investment, based on an atavistic wish to actually see justice done, was doomed from the beginning. (Though I will admit I was one of those who thought you couldn't find twelve people that stupid, and thus expected a hung jury.) Since a retrial was the only likely vehicle of eventual punishment, that became the focus of my hopes. However, as the trial proceeded, the prosecution proving day after day an ineptness almost preternatural in its scope, my hopes, such as they were, dimmed. Perhaps the nadir for me came not with the lunatic Let's Try On The Glove episode, but rather during the testimony of the statistics professor with an English accent. (This was the man who, as the prosecution proceeded to prove, had miscalculated some DNA estimates, which, when corrected, demonstrated that OJ was not the only man in the universe who could have commited the murders, but rather merely the only man in our solar system.) Attempting to shed light on this authority's highly technical and utterly abstruse presentation during a break in the testimony, the Court TV expert du jour ended up citing Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, which he apparently did not understand, but I think you get the point as to how information that can only be discussed at that level of analysis might go over (way, way over, actually) with a downtown LA jury. When I heard that the verdict had been reached, I was in my car, listening to a New York talk station, coming in barely at all on my radio as I'm accustomed to because I'm basically out of their broadcast range. At first I thought it was some kind of talk show shtick, a put-on, not real at all since the jury's "deliberations" had only just begun. But the moment I recognized Ito's voice, which I knew was real, I also knew that I had been wrong in my forecast: not only had they found twelve people that stupid, they had assembled a group easily a couple of standard deviations below my already rockbottom expectations.

Well, I don't want to get off on a rant here.


In Apocalypse Now Robert Duvall says, "Someday the war will end.... What will we do then?" That is how I felt about O.J. Of course it wasn't totally cold turkey, the various media autopsies and relevant follow-ups eased the slide back toward reality. Geraldo, loathe to dismount a winner, acted as if nothing had happened, continuing to devote every show to the story. Before the O.J. stuff came up I had been seriously trying to wean myself from an increasingly unhealthy appetite for popular scandal. First it had been months of following the Amy Fisher Long Island Lolita lunacy, and just as the dust from that began to settle, things had really heated up with the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan wackiness. At the time I felt some sort of tabloid pinnacle had been reached. Nothing that loony would ever come up again in our lifetimes. Little did I know what lay in store only scant weeks ahead. As soon as O.J. was implicated in the murders, I knew we had some really big time material, and when he took off in that Bronco, well, things ascended to a stratospheric level previously unexplored. I remember the afternoon and early evening after O.J fled, waiting for what became known as the Low Speed Chase to begin. Janice noticed I wouldn't leave the television set. "Aren't you going out today?" she asked. "They're going to find him," I said, "and they're going to find him soon, because he's O.J. Simpson, and he can't hide. And when they find him, it's gonna be on TV and I'm gonna be here watching it." "But he's probably killed himself," Janice objected, parroting the odds at the time. "No," I said. "Maybe he can butcher a woman, but he won't hurt himself."

So the alumverse arrived at a proper time for me as, in retrospect, most things do. Though I've long had an interest in poetry (God knows there's enough books of poetry around here), I've never felt I "understood" it very well. So I appreciated this opportunity to have a renewed and revamped sense for it and of it. I'm still not sure how well I understand it, but I'm not sure of a lot of things; I try not to let it get in my way. You may have noticed. I am sure there is no mention of the words "poet" or "poetry" in the entire 26 volumes of the Warren Commission Report (I've done the search), but let's face it, poetry's tough. Consider this statement of Faulkner's:

"I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing."

So I send a virtual hug to all the versers who filled my mailbox, assuaging the ultimate loneliness of the long distance scholar, from Adam, who showed he belongs at a think tank, to Zumbro, who'll let me call her Susanne, and all the ones in between, Evan who's taken to hanging around bookstores where you can usually find me, and Peter who spammed us in the only netiquettally appropriate way, and Robin who has maybe had that baby by now, and John Kim for whom I established a folder in my hard drive, and Marc who drove me crazy by always quoting the entire text he was responding to but I always scrolled down to get to his words because they were worth it, and TheSteven never judging us harshly as he invented poet bytes and happened upon a cyber rent in Adam's heart, and John Norton a real poet whose anthology I own, and Doc Gonzo the night the graphic arrived I knew he has poetry in his soul than he hasn't dreamt of, yet, and Andrea who like me wants it both ways, and Carole sweet and shy came to the union took my phone number and never called story of my life, and Ron who probably now fondly remembers the blizzards we began with, and Edward who wore a suit just to be around us go figure, and Marguerite who spun out of the darkness when it mattered, and Conni whose warmth and hope bound us in our purpose, and Ingrid who showed that women really are different in case Time Magazine didn't sufficiently clear that up, and Judith the balanced blend of math and metaphor, dance and figures, and Nancy mom of the FBI Guy, and Eileen whose name I couldn't resist playing with owner of world's toughest job can't go to work and say nobody better give me any grief today, and Elizabeth B. Rehfield mistress of few words who I still don't know what she really does, and Robert have I found my publisher at last still waiting for the report on antique vibrators, and Aizaz better late than never weaver of great tales, and Tom a drizzle threatening to Flood, and Jamie cooking with the Existentialists, and Ali in my mind reading poems in the groves, and Warren who took us to class, and Marguerite whose office I hope we lighted, and David whose name always reminded me of Dien Bien Phu shows you how my thoughts are processed I too attended the sit-in, and Alex who found respite from the spreadsheets, and Gerri quasilurker Ginsberg lover, and Bob who studied with the Ginsberg pere, and Kirby never the same after puking, and Christie who had some good ideas before we swarmed her scaring her away, and Carlos struck speechless now hopefully resting comfortably, and Joanne who'll get you in to see the Provost anytime, and Angie not too far out for me, and Ilene who found us work related, and Mary who likes it hot, and Ellen who can get it done, and Melissa balancing the books while balancing us, and Nicole who shares my passion for Trane, and Allen the poetry in the heart of the reporter, and Gina who agreed with me on Emily, and Susanne who led me to Howe, and Jordana child of computered mates, and Alex who reads Rilke, and Steve trying to read as fast as alumversers can write not so easy some days, and my lovely wife Janice lurker by proxy who endured late arrivals at the dinner table I'll be done in five more minutes stretching into an hour and five and the such, and, uhh, what was his name, started with an L, oh yes, LEON, that's it, previously unknown classmate of mine took five years to graduate maybe because his papers were so long?, who demonstrated that even with Little League he, like frinstance me, has way way too much free time on his hands and made me feel that maybe my posts weren't so long after all, and last and most especially far from least all the lurkers and occasional posters the JohnLeeAnnetteThomasAllisonTracyElsieMartha MichelSilviaMichelleDeborahKentArvindRobertoMikalRachelSaraEric NeilBruceLisaAnitaWilliamSusans and all the rest y'know who yare who must have kept reading because they didn't unsubscribe and whose presence as a greater audience kept at least this handwaver's hand wavering.

And, lest she be forgotten, Mali at Cambridge. Deep into Joyce. Tease of the year. Authoress of my alltime favorite alumverser post. Who visited us with that one incandescent offering, promised to return, and disappeared forever, cruelly shattering the heart, hope, and hype of your current correspondent.

And of course, a final recognition of the special man who made this all possible, the Professor himself. What can you say about Al? That he was pricked by a rose at an early age and has had it in for flowers ever since? That maybe he really is a cover identity for a group of, say, half a dozen people--did you ever check the range of times that his posts were posted? Is he one of these people who doesn't need sleep or what? Ever notice he doesn't have a "real" address? Supposedly raising two kids in a dorm? Uh huh.... At any rate, he gently set us right when we were wrong, allowed us to stray, but not too far, and, unless I'm mistaken, found himself more and more caught up--more than he himself expected--in our proceedings as time passed. It seems to me that over the months the level of discourse rose and the sharpness of our analysis increased. Which is a way of saying we learned something. In the Penn SAS article someone named Joe was quoted as remarking that it was hard to mentally fix alumversers as coherent personalities with a distinct point of view. There was a singular, and most instructive, exception to this. The Professor. You always knew where to find Al. He was with the words. Because poetry is words. And whenever we strayed or difficulties arose, he took us back to the words, and we found ourselves again. Because the words is the poetry. And though it almost sounds trivial, this is what I learned: if in doubt, go back to the words. Beyond that I'm grateful for the introduction to Stein who is amazing (and even more amazingly I had always previously bypassed somehow), the Language Poets who are already beginning to entertain and enlighten me, the reintroduction to Dickenson who I had insufficiently appreciated, the metaview of the modern school in our poetry, and the few words/much thought level of ingress and analysis.

And as for myself? As usual it's through indirection direction find. I think I'll go visit Walt Whitman's house again. I last tried about ten years ago, was living in Colorado at the time, only briefly in Jersey to attend Princeton alumni day, figured I could find it just by driving randomly around Camden, maybe not the best idea--after all, it was Camden--but eventually I did happen upon it, only to discover it is only open a few hours a week, none of those hours being the one I was there. And perhaps I'll go back to my novel in eternal composition, sorely neglected, Life and Death: My Search for Patty Hearst. The only work done on it for a year has been toying with an alternative title: Hitler's Urine. If you can call that work. Nietzsche said, "The process of writing is, more often than not, a laying of traps." There's a trap formed as a tease in nearly all of my posts, watch your toes if you go back through them. (For example, no one even asked about my complicated ideas regarding Cage. Sigh. Probably just as well for you, though. As I indicated, they are complicated.) Other near term plans: I'm going to put in some hours on the Theremin I recently finished soldering together; commemorate the recent republication of Dhalgren by Samuel Delany by rereading it for the fourth time (highly recommended, the story of a poet, you'll find it in the science fiction section, though it's only there because they really don't know where to put it and Delany has written some actual science fiction; he's also the author of one of the best page-turning autobiographies I've read: The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village 1957-1965); add a few volumes to what I believe is one of the larger private collect ons of 20th Century vampire literature; revisit Derrida by rereading Spurs, a fascinating book on Nietzsche largely devoted to an exegesis of this single isolated line of Nietzsche's discovered among the great mass of his unpublished writings: "I have forgotten my umbrella." A line like that can lead to more thinking than you might think. As the Nowhere M n says in Ye low Submarin :

Ad hoc ad loc and quid pro quo, So little time so much to know.

Not too long ago I d scovered my wife, the love y J nice, attempting to throw out a b ok (typical Jani e line: Why do you need thr e copies of the same book? Favorite re ponse: I'm having trouble findi g a fourth I lik ). You can't throw that out, I sa d. Why not? she re lied. Because, I said, that b ok has one of my fav rite lines in it. The book was The Cat In The H t. The favori e line:

It is fun to have fun, but you have to know how.

Th se past few m nths I've earned a lit le more h w.

The in erferen e seems o be incr asing. It mu t be time to g . Signi g off fr m th Je sey shor , disap earing into t e cyb rstatic, rom d ep in th hea t of J eLand, over and ou .

I rema n,

s B/ ,


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Last modified: Monday, 02-Aug-2004 17:04:34 EDT