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Back You are here: Home Themed Collections The Collective Speaks LA1K eBook Celebration Whammy: A Brief Reminiscence of Tamarken
Monday, 27 February 2012 02:00

Whammy: A Brief Reminiscence of Tamarken

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A week before the fatal plane crash, Peter Tamarken (of Press Your Luck! fame) came over to my bungalow duplex in East Hollywood at my request.  We’d spoken on the phone the night before, mostly him venting about his just-completed opus, the rough treatment it’d been getting at the major publishing houses.

“They tell me it has no genre.  They don’t know how to sell it.  I told them to sell it as a memoir, like everything else.  Who even knows what that word means?  Nothing.  Nothing is what it means,” he’d said on the phone.

I had to admit that I hadn’t read his book, indeed I hadn’t yet opened it.  A month prior, he’d sent an advance copy to my little 500 print zine, inspired by a story we ran in one of our first issues (about a young maintenance worker losing his mind, confronting a specter-like doppelganger who is benevolent, generous, understanding, infinitely more so than he).   The story, called “Me Better,” apparently struck a chord deep within Tamarken; perhaps, I imagined, in the places he never revealed under the dazzling lights of the Press Your Luck! set, behind the liberal application of powder, eye shadow, and the rest.  That he’d even seen our tiny journal shocked me, but he said his kids were into that kind of stuff, local music, art, what was happening on the ground.  So there it sat on his toilet, just dumb luck.

I’d already decided to serialize his book in our little publication before I opened it; for the novelty, the kitsch, the nostalgia, and the free anecdote it would give me out at the bars.  It would be full of irony and snark, and we wouldn’t even have to explain why.   It would be self-evident.  No whammies no whammies big bucks big bucks—stop! Stop indeed.

What I did not expect from reading Whammy, the writing of which Tamarken admitted had both defined and destroyed what was left of his soul, was that it would vice-grip me, plant me in my worn leather chair, and hold me there until I’d devoured all 658 pages of madness, compassion, mysticism, utter desolation—this was a man who intimately knew the boundless expanse of love vs. the inevitable undoing of a man.  I left my reading chair only to urinate, make tea, urinate, and eat a small plate of cheese and fruit.

Tamarken walked through the door at midnight on the dot.  I’d only finished the book a half hour before, my fingers still trembling on my phone.

“So you called,” he said, “that’s good.”

“I didn’t have a choice.  I can’t be alone.”

“I know, I know.  I can’t either anymore.  I go to malls.  It doesn’t help, but I go anyway.”

“I can feel them, just like you say in the book.  Just gnawing.   I’ve always known it, too, but somehow I just pushed it aside in my head.”

“You can steel yourself, but” he began, but then seemed to drift somewhere out my front window, to the street maybe.

We sat there quietly until I remembered my manners and offered him tea, which he declined, instead removing a flask from his navy sport jacket.

“They eat your insides like fajitas.  Meticulous, you understand, eager but calm.  They make sure all the parts are there, the sour cream, the peppers, onions, the guacamole, the cheese—and the meat.  They never forget the meat.”

“What do your children think?”

“I told them if there’s one Goddamn thing they ever listen to, one way they ever comply with my wishes, it’s to never open Whammy.”

“Yes,” I said, “I understand.”

“I could never endure it again, the way my wife looked at me after finishing it.  The light that went out.  What replaced it—horror.  Truth you might say.”

We sat a while longer, and I realized I’d been nodding my head in agreement for fifteen minutes of silence.  I wondered what Tamarken’s brilliant and uncompromising work would do to the twenty-seven people who read our magazine.  Our official mission was to help people discover new and exciting voices.  But this, Tamarken’s opus, was something so much greater.  It was absurd that someone like me would have the responsibility of introducing it to the world at large.  Suddenly I felt jumpy, inwardly clumsy, certainly a feeling I was familiar with, which usually led to maladroit comments like…

“Peter,” I said, “where do the whammies come from?  I guess I mean, are they rooted in our minds, our beings, or are they an external?”

Tamarken’s cheeks dropped, followed by his eyes, then his head, which hung suspended between his knees.

“Rooted?” he said, “Please, just let them be what they are.  What they are is what they do.  Devour into non-existence.  They are the impossible—they come from nothing.”

“It’s going to be a long night,” I said.

“One of many.  Just try to avoid sleeping pills.  I wish I would’ve.”

When I read a week later that Tamarken’s biplane had gone down, the shock and wonder that accompanied the thought that such an accomplished amateur pilot could lose control—well, I suspected the worst immediately.  The estate lawyer called and confirmed what I presumed when he said, with no small degree of bewilderment, that Tamarken’s will stipulated that the publishing and any use of Whammy be entrusted to me.  Any proceeds* were to be “assembled in cash and burned in the street.”

Tamarken never wavered that evening with me, in his commitment to seeing me through as I sat with my essence being erased, my dreams, my love and memories of love.  Digesting Tamarken gave me the feeling of being carrion, but it also gave me a quaking desire to run out into the night in search of the sweet breath of a kiss.  A hundred kisses.  We finished the vodka in my freezer at about 2:30, dozing, finally, while the Angus Dei of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis sang us out, into bloodcurdling dream.

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Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson’s Spiral Bound Brother, won a fellowship for novels in progress from the Vermont Studio Center. He is Stories Editor of The Black Boot (theblackboot.com). Ryan works in counseling and teaches writing at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. He wishes to lovingly namecheck his family: Sarah, Chance, Seamus, and Tuva.   To reach Ryan-- ryanewilson5@yahoo.com

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