Monday, October 26, 2009

Rob keeps on rereading

(Continuing my revisitation of one of my favorite literary relics from my misspent youth -- Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks by Ralph Blum.)

All right, well, QED is really starting to get on my nerves. It's not just the fact that he's rich, but that's certainly one strike against him. This dude is so rich he has somebody who types up his scribbled diary or letter to his unborn grandson or whatever it is. He's also a snob:

We ate Laura's bread with lots of margarine, and I thought how Mommy never even buys margarine. Probably divorced ladies have to compromise, even with alimony.

The only thing I can think as to why I identified so much with QED was because I figured I was going to be rich too and I was looking for some pointers as to how to behave. I have no such illusions today and it's just as well. If I had been rich and followed in QED's footsteps I'd have been just another rich, snobby arsehole and the world doesn't need any more of them, for sure.

I didn't like him having sex with the diary-typist either, a married woman. But his girlfriend thinks it's great. She's the real hippie, not this spoiled rich poser QED.

But it's impossible to completely dislike the guy. Even if he does say things that leave you scratching your head, things like "Worrying about the wrong problem is like jacking off with sandpaper." I mean, does that make any sense?

Well, I've finished the book now, and the main feeling it leaves me with is bewilderment. Why did this book mean so much to me when I was a lad? Nothing happens in it -- this spoiled, rich 17-year old smokes a ton of grass and that's about it. The action -- such as it is -- do not present the protagonist in a positive light. He steals his best friend's girlfriend, loses his virginity to a married pregnant woman -- who works for him, typing up his diary, because even though he has no job and no responsibilities he can't type up his own scribblings. It's not at all romantic or erotic, so I hope it was meant to be comedic. It fails at that too, but it's less creepy considered that way.

The one part that should have been comedic -- QED's GF's father railroads him into participating in a sailboat race -- fizzles out when our hero overturns the craft before he gets to the starting line. This event makes him sexually climax but only because the author wants to use the pun "Nautical emission."

Oh, and his grandfather dies, but this is not dramatic or poignant. The old man is ready to go. I can see how most people who had to spend their days with Quintus Ells might long for death's embrace.

So the book stands or falls on QED's personality. If you like him you'll like the book. I don't like him very much. He's selfish, ignorant, racist and, as previously noted, spoiled, rich, snobby and immoral.

I must have liked him when I was 15 though. Maybe because back then I believed that rich people could still be decent and down-to-earth. I labor under no such delusions nowadays.

But, I would still say that this reread was success. It was good getting in touch with my 15-year-old self (and good saying good-bye to that knucklehead too). Some books are only great at certain times in your life. I loved Thomas Wolfe as a young man. Now I found him pompous, flowery and verbose. When they made me read "The Great Gatsby" in high school I thought it was putrid. When I reread it in my 40's it blew me away. So let's just say that "Old Glory and the Real-Time Freaks" is not a bad book, but for me it's past its expiration date.


Anonymous said...

Actually it is possible to be rich, decent, and down to earth. And using words like "arsehole" sound a little pretentious in their own right.

Norrin2 said...

So? One can be poor and pretentious, can one not?