Novels, Ghosts

The ghosts of ten thousand take-out meals hover in my kitchen, a haunted cubicle. I wander into the apartment one day; I’m innocently staring out the window, when quietly, secretly, a vindaloo from 2002 calls to me, a wild vindaloo downed with beer and a giggle, the memory of my friend telling a story while my mouth burned; but trying to speak over it, yelling like some irascible Jewish lady at the deli, is a miserable meal from Teriyaki Boy, a quasi-Udon from the turn of the millennium, and with its raspy uninviting styrofoam-encased memory it attempts to remind me that not all take-out is pleasure and conviviality; most is grim, lazy Necessity. There they are, the consumed spirits, auras arguing in the kitchen; each having made its way into my body and out and somehow (somehow!) determined the course of events, the course of now and the course of future years; but all variables are still in play (except the years now past? … perhaps even they are in play). Just two days ago, I gazed at the withered remains of a corned beef sandwich, in transition to ghostliness. Have I betrayed you too?, I wondered … we deserved each other less than we hoped. The meal as pure joyous ritual: I have betrayed that ideal, time and time again; though I believe it is not entirely my fault.

But upon arrival in London you should have seen me in the Marks & Spencer, the way I scoured the aisles. How delightful to find a new food paradigm. There they were, banks upon banks of sandwiches in little plastic containers, and with my child’s fervor I smirked as I chose exotic titles only partly for their flavor-appeal:

Wensleydale Cheese Sandwich with Caramelized Carrot Chutney
Hoisin Duck Wrap
Black Pepper Potato and Lentil Crisps
Gala Apple Juice
Milk Chocolate Digestive Biscuits

It seemed impossible they (the nameless clerks) would even let me purchase such an odd assortment. Cross-legged on my hotel bed, clicking the clicker, I giggled and punctured and ate, until my coverlet was stained, tell-tale, with brownish-orange smears, the guilty wake of passionately spilled carrot chutney, a sandwich to which I made such love as I deemed appropriate. How many times have I tiredly wiped my eyes and stroked an eyebrow and moaned wearily of how much the classical musician must travel, but really I’m a terrible hypocrite. Even a foreign sandwich can send me to ecstasy.

As if the chutney-Wensleydale weren’t enough, I could probably compose a passionate ode to the potato crisps; oh wait, “inspiration” is coming on:

Oh spirit of peppercorn
Blinking on an oily horizon:
Spice which sank a thousand ships:
Bless me once more.
Make this potato sing.

One symptom of traveling is the loneliness of watching other people’s reunions. I was waiting for the Heathrow Express train with a youngish couple, who ended up sitting across from me. They were evidently and manifestly very happy to see each other again, and thus their physical contact increased exponentially with distance from the airport. The dimensions and contours of the seats were their only limitations. I tried looking away, thinking of other things, but the girl’s foot ended up in a curious place, and matters were getting–so to speak–out of hand; the train thankfully pulled up at Paddington Station. This couple bounded out the door, enlaced, deeply impatient to get where they were going… and I looked up at the arching roof of the station, and sighed with my luggage. I had too much pride to plod, but I walked pensively, and searched the vast space for some relief; as you have read, I sublimated their energy into sandwiches. It was the available option. You must always accept what is available, as a starting point.

To conclude this rambling post, I would like to ask my readers to offer their suggestions what to do with a barely used copy of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I was ambitious and hopeful; I thought to myself “stop being a fuddyduddy and read something young and hip and current;” I began reading with (a perhaps somewhat contrived) enthusiasm, which quickly dampened. It is futuristic and dark (one might say darkly comic?… whatever) and rather monotonous, and even more overwritten than Think Denk. I skipped forward three hundred pages or so, and found more of the same. And it is written in the manner which I am so displeased to find as the modus operandi of the modern novel: each chapter leaping to a new story… using the opportunity to set an entirely new scene, go into yet another “backstory.” Ack, so tiresome; if there are many strands to the story, is there not a way (a less lazy way) to weave the strands into a more continuous narrative? This is not always possible, but consider music as the model? Whatever other stories you have to tell must be connected within the ongoing fabric; the second theme has its own story but must be created out of the momentum of the first, etc. The continuity of a musical work is its discipline, and I guess I’m just a fuddyduddy who doesn’t like too much leaping around in my novels; I am not a dog, I don’t want to be jerked to and fro; the novelist does not control me, I’m my own man and I have my own sense of time, my own demands; and the point is I loved my Wensleydale sandwich so much more than Infinite Jest and if you have any ideas what to do with a huge, unwanted novel, please let me know.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Jacque
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  2. Christina
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    if you want intelligent reading, try and its editor’s (dave eggers) books: how we are hungry, you shall know our velocity, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius). as for getting rid of your other book, er… well. charing cross road has a bunch of lovely used books shops you could sell it to and i’m sure that some london hipster will be more than happy to find a copy of your book there. ps, it was lovely hearing you play the other night despite the fact that i couldn’t muster the courage to approach you backstage (how relieving it was to finally hear someone with an american accent after studying abroad here for months and months!)… but from across the room your ruminations on various composers sounded quite intriguing! 🙂

  3. Anonymous
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Denk asked:
    “I would like to ask my readers to offer their suggestions what to do with a barely used copy of…”
    I would say: stop reading and give the book away if you were so ” displeased to find as the modus operandi of the modern novel: …”

    I found this Q&A was interesting and may apply to reading:
    Interviewer: … But probably your fans would like to know the secret of your music taste. Why do you love one Beethoven’s sonata more than another one?
    Kissin: I am not be able to explain to you in simple words what love is and I have the same problem with the music. Scientifically regarded love arises in the brain, but it is impossible to understand. I can only say about a piece of music that it is near of my heart.

    Same as reading, if a book is near your heart, read it; otherwise, do not bother.

  4. Marve
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    What to do with an unwanted book? It depends on whether or not you’d want to inflict it upon someone else. If not, there are extreme solutions

  5. emilyb
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Ok…here’s how you get over Mr. F-Wallace’s “infinite jest”. Find yourself some cash and time to take a Celebrity Cruise (let’s hope it is to Alaska as 14,000 ft. mountains are infinitely more moving than small Caribbean Islands) and immediately after you return, read D. F-W’s “A supposedly fun thing I will never do again”. I guarantee you that this “essay” will redeem him in your estimation and give you at least 175 pages worth of side-splitting fun.

  6. CAROL
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    I could use some paper for the bottom of my birds’ cage?! She does say a few words – so maybe she could learn a few more – assuming that she may secretly know how to read?! If you ever have any unwanted sheet music, it could be used for the same purpose. She knows how to whistle “Bluebird”, and “Frere Jacques” (transplanted Torontonian to NY), and remixes them together in various ways when she wants food or attention. The best noise is her wolf whistle when no-one else appreciates how I may look on a good “hair day” before leaving the house! Lucky you to be in London! (“Glamorous” life or not – it’s still Europe!). I’ve been there once, I did get to Harrods – their food section is interesting as well. (and about the only dept that might have something affordable to purchase – I prefer baubles myself). My food obsession is more of being the caterer to an interesting variety of freeloaders that show up on our doorstep every night (in the wild burbs of the north shore of Long Island). Three B/W cats, one tabby, 2 raccoons (Elvis and Priscilla), and an occasional visit from our HUGE “Harry O’Possum”. His idea of “fast food” is to take 30 min to eat a small bowl of kibble, and then “run” (lumber) away quickly at about 5ft/min. So, I don’t get takeout – I deliver to my own doorstep – and the “patrons” (who do not leave tips!) are being closely watched by my cats on the other side of the glass storm door. As long as there is glass separating them, they are congenial, but face to face – it would be all-out streetgang war.
    By the way, I have enjoyed a number of your and Joshua Bells’ recitals over the last yr – in NY and LI with my daughter. She plays the piano, violin, and trumpet, and I play the string bass (after a long absence from having played just until the end of high school). Thanks to her violin teacher,(he has his doctorate, teaches, and is a member of the Hampton Chamber Orchestra with his wife who plays the cello) – I have been able to play in 2 “youth orchestras” – in order to re-teach myself – since I have to drive there anyways. We have one in Southampton (PYO) which we just stopped playing in this year – as he started a new orchestra through the Suffolk Community College on one of their campuses in Selden. It’s a youth orchestra – really called SCCCYO – (but we lovingly call it SYCO)-so my daughter is the concertmaster, I get to play, the kids are from gr 7 – 12 and it’s quite a large spread in playing ablities, but we’re hoping to grow enough to split into 2 age groups. So I am now taking on the role of music librarian, parental memo/schedule maker, and general do whatever as an assistant. WHICH HAS NOW MADE THIS MY FIRST PAYING MUSIC JOB! Which only came about because the college had to be able to explain, (in this wonderful day and age), why a strange adult would be in the room with the students. I just don’t know how I will spend my weekly paycheque of $11! Probably on CAT/RACCOON/POSSUM FOOD?! I feel so inadequate as a musician, but then again, I doubt there are too many professional musicians who are nurses and have attended to as many (human) births as I have had the privalege of doing. (now I just get the occasional stray pregnant cat!). I really hope that you do enjoy being an artist, and travelling. My to-be ex is an airline pilot, and the job is so routine that people-watching in airports, or being in cities like Paris (even if for only 28 hrs – I WAS able to go twice), is just another workday for him – which is sad. One of the pilots complained once that he got tired of having “to bring the world home to his wife” while she is home raising the kids alone half the month! What a horrible thought – having to find SOMETHING interesting to relate about his trip to her! Now that I only have 2 yrs left of my daughter being in high school, my older one is working and moved out (she played the flute, and trained in ballet for 9 yrs – including 2 summers with ABT in Tuscaloosa – her classes and final performances were on the stage at Moody Hall that you just played in, and another summer with Boston Ballet – AND I have seen the NUTCRACKER SIXTY TIMES – she did at the theatre at Hofstra. I just was figuring out the world of ballet auditions and companies etc. – and then she quit last year1). I WAS looking forward to travelling, but now I have to figure out a new life instead. (maybe I should READ your book!!!!!!!!!). Next time you play, why don’t you come out and meet people after your performances with Joshua? We’re not all that scary, and someone like my daughter can appreciate both of your talents (although at age 15 – I don’t think she’s managed to come out with a complete sentence to Joshua yet! After we leave, she remembers absolutely NOTHING – and asks: “did I say anything, did he? Oh god!”.(then she carries the photos we take, and her violin cover he signed in her case for good luck!) So at your last recital in Feb at Carnegie Hall when you played the Dvorzak (sp? it’s late1)we were discussing why some people don’t like his music – so I said “why don’t you email him and ask him if HE likes his music (refering to Joshua) – but it was late – and she was falling asleep so Sarah says: “but isn’t he dead already?”. I just looked at her until she realized what I meant was NOT what she thought!! So we ended up laughing all the way home in the car! (I forgot to email and request to be put on “THE LIST” – to go backstage after – and trying to get past anyone at Carnegie is impossible! otherwise we would have said hi. I much prefer the Lincoln Center – they are far more accomodating). I think,(I know), that I wrote more than I was going to – anyways – I must be up early to drive Sarah to school – she did her annual break or sprain an ankle,leg, or arm actvity (this yr and last it was the ankle)- at least her cellphone works – I got a call at 5:30AM from her cell to mine i.e. stair landing to me sleeping happily in my room – “Uh MOM? I Fell down the stairs and hurt my ankle!” – oh joy, another trip to StonyBrook ER!),and crutches are not school bus items! As always, it’s NYSSMA exam weekend – she’s done her piano (Debussys’ “Clair de Lune”), and has to do her violin All-State Corellis’ “La Follia” Symphony No.12. – which created a near crisis when we found out there was an older and a newer version, and I bought the newer one – when she had been working off a photocopy of the older version. So they are supposed to arrive tomorrow – or else! In fact, I almost called the woman in NYC you wrote about – Heidi – since you said she had all types of music (and no-one else did anywhere! However Sheetmusic came through for me) – and strangely enough my mothers’ name is Heidi which is why I remembered it( but she is uncomplicated and nice!) It is also her first time to have a pianist to accompany her. Everytime I think I can coast for a bit – another crisis arises – and they say parents don’t work at home?! I feel like I have managed ,navigated, figured out, and arranged so many things I knew nothing about before! Choosing what takeout to order in would be a treat!!!!!!!!!

  7. Anonymous
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Return to Marks & Spencer. Choose
    the appropriate number of delectable sandwiches to satisy your needs. Fill the empty sandwich space with Infinte Jest. Done.

  8. Michael
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    What to do with a barely used copy of Wallace’s Infinite Jest?

    Do what Zadie Smith once suggested when faced with the sheer literary and physical mass of the book: have a contest with your roommate or friends to see who can throw the thing the farthest across a room.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    An idea for a posting from you.
    Today my granddaughter told me that there was an article in the Boston Latin student newspaper about you, Jeremy, an “up and coming artist.” When I hear things like that, or when I hear you on the radio, etc., I have an impulse to pass it on to you. What I’d like to know is how artists such as yourself relate to your publicity. Is it something relegated to some agent, that you have no interest in? Or do you greedily store up in your mind every public mention of you and your career? Give us a peek into the world of an “up and coming artist.”

    A fan in Watertown

  10. hari
    Posted May 11, 2006 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    nothing’s drearier than a dull book when you’re traveling. i’d toss it in the garbage or donate it to a street book vendor. it’s always good to travel with a few books, just in case. as for food, it always tastes better when you’re traveling until you get bored with the trip and you can’t wait to get home to eat your normal good and junk type foods. have a good tour; i’ll catch one of your concerts in nyc.

  11. Chrys
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    My dearest Jeremy, you of such deep thought and entertaining posts,

    I’d recommend setting the book free. Perhaps a la Bookcrossing as Jacque suggested. Its intrepid travels could therefore and hence be recorded, giving your unwanted novel a new life of its own.

    Of course, you risk that no one would pick up the tome, which may leave you feeling guilt and additional regret that you neither need nor deserve.

    So might I suggest that you quietly wander into the nearest large public library and shelve it wherever it seems most fitting to you. In selecting an appropriate spot, you shall have an adventure and the library shall have your kind, anonymous donation.

    Your devoted reader….

  12. Anonymous
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Well, well, well. Or is it well well well? The limits of literary tolerance seem to have been reached and as usual with a whimper not a BANG; with peevishness (I am not a dog) and analogy (consider music, why? and another thing: how could you tell if the themes of IJ were interwoven or not – they are – if you didn’t read the text). Put the damn thing on ebay, give it to a charity shop, it’ll find a willing home. Just feels like you’re straying where angels should stick back from: denouncing literature you haven’t read let alone digested, blame your guts if you must, I guess, but don’t look around for innovative ways to burn good stuff.

  13. Jennifer
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    this reminds me of David Sedaris’ short story “Next of Kin” (found in his book “Naked”)…that’s one way to recycle a book.

  14. Lulu
    Posted May 13, 2006 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I think I told you to chose M&S over any other supermarket. I need recognition. Louise.

  15. former music student
    Posted May 14, 2006 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Another way of auf Wiedersehen! to the disappointing book. Make a note ‘Free Book’ on a small piece of paper. (You may write more … whatever you like.) Go down to the laundry room of your apartment. Leave the book with the note on the bench or shelf there. My apartment residents often do this. (I did, too.) Or, some libraries, including school ones, have Free Book carts. Simply shove the book in there.

  16. noreen
    Posted May 18, 2006 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the wonderful concerts at the Wigmore, Jeremy! It was a gorgeous performance of Schubert!

    Being a visitor of London, I agree that their food courts are incredibly loaded with interesting food options. Their restaurants are even better-a true gastronome’s haven. I highly recommend Locanda Locatelli and Le Gavroche if you happen to go there agan. 🙂

    Will see you in San Francisco in November-really looking forward to it!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>