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Excerpt

Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit

Mark Leyner

January 15, 2021 
The following is excerpted from Mark Leyner's latest novel, Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit, about the deep pleasures of reading and drinking, and the transcendent love of a father for his daughter. Leyner is the author of five previous novels and the New York Times bestseller Why Do Men Have Nipples?. He lives in New Jersey.

The Epilogue (which, due to the fallen state of the world, follows immediately upon the Introduction) is read through the artificial tears of the Patient.

The Bar Pulpo. Father/Daughter Nite.

We hear in the distance prolonged screams of the most exquisite agony.

GABY and the FATHER are seated across from each other in a booth.

Immediately we notice the native centerpiece — a metal basket of fluorescent-​yellow marzipan golf balls — and sense the fou mathématiques (i.e., nothing seems to quite add up here).

GABY
(in a stage whisper)

Ready?

The FATHER nods, like Zeus (if only in his own mind), setting it off.

It is, perhaps, like that moment at a Grand Prix, in some exotic city, when the red starting lights are extinguished and it all begins . . . the difference, the repetition, the delirious vortex to that last chicane (orgy).

On June 26, 2035, Kermunkachunk, the capital of Chalazia, was engulfed in chaos. The Chalazian Mafia Faction, a fanatical offshoot of the Chalazian Children’s Theater, had assumed control of the city center and was carrying out mass executions. Enemies, real and especially imagined, were dragged out of their office buildings and gutted in the street.

As a WAITER approaches from across the room, he’s “shot” in the abdomen (we can’t tell if the round’s been fired from within the bar or from out on the piazza). Like the plucky protagonist of a Peter Berg movie (and in the first of a series of petit mal Dances of Death that prefigure the Father’s culminating grand mal Dance of Death), he stumbles to the booth, holding in his “entrails” with his hand. He coughs up a spray of “blood” before a convulsive pirouette sends him collapsing to the checkerboard tile floor, “dead,” and then, without losing a beat, he pops right back up—

WAITER

Is this your first time at a Bar Pulpo?

GABY

It is.

WAITER

Well, first of all, welcome . . .

He curtsies.

GABY and the FATHER smile.

WAITER

Basically, the idea is that you design or customize your own piazza. You get four Big-Character Posters, one for the north side, one for the south side, one for the east, and one for the west. The Big-Character Posters function as, uh . . . as . . . gosh, all of a sudden, I can’t think of the word . . .

FATHER
(reading phlegmatically from
one of the spoken-​word karaoke screens)

Epigraphs?

WAITER

Exactly, yes, epigraphs. So—

(he hands each of them a beautiful four-​color gatefold brochure
that includes a menu of options for Big-​Character
Posters, i.e., epigraphs)

—you’re going to choose four Big-Character Posters from the menu of options.

GABY

Do you have any recommendations?

WAITER

Well, most people pick the Hölderlin — it speaks very poetically to the noble intimacy of the father/daughter bond. Beyond that, whatever appeals to you.

The WAITER exits.

GABY and the FATHER open their brochures and peruse the menu of options for the Big-​Character Posters (i.e., epigraphs) that will appear on each side of the piazza:

1

Not without wings may one
Reach out for that which is nearest

— Friedrich Hölderlin, “Der Ister”

2

Pooping while menstruating is one of the most psychedelic experiences a person can have.

— Mira Gonzalez

3

The “content” of any medium is always another medium.

— Marshall McLuhan

4

Like a child on a scooter, [fill in the blank] seems to veer inexorably toward you, no matter how deliberately you try to avoid it.

— from Donald Duck’s trippy account of the Scopes Monkey Trial

5

That Monday, belying predictions of torrential rain on all the weather apps, there was bright sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.

“I have an idea,” said the pigeon to several little sparrows eating bread crusts beneath a park bench that afternoon. “What if we . . .”

“Yes?” said one of the sparrows, knowing the pigeon always thought things through very, very carefully. 

“What if we called his first orgasm (when he separated both his shoulders and shit in his pants) his First Orgy?”

— Mark Leyner,
First Orgy of the Divine Hermit

6

For me, the most dangerous people are the guys who are sitting behind a kiosk and just smoking and eating noodles.

— Timo Tjahjanto,
director of The Night Comes for Us

7

If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s the Fall.

— Mark E. Smith

8

It is no nation we inhabit, but a language. Make no mistake; our native tongue is our true fatherland.

— Emil Cioran
(used as an epigraph to the video game
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

9

No, seriously . . . seriously! We used to call it the “pizza from hell.” The place was located in this creepy basement corridor, like in some dilapidated institution, like an abandoned public school or factory or something. We never saw an oven or a kitchen, never knew exactly where the pizza was made. We’d just wait in this dark, damp hallway which smelled like janitorial supplies, like ammonia and pine disinfectant and that mint absorbent sawdust and that cheap brown toilet paper — remember that smell? — until this guy appeared. Long greasy hair, broken teeth, this oozing gash across his forehead, sores all over his face. He’d always be in this incredible rage, raving incoherently . . . And he’d hand you your slice. And we never had the slightest idea where it came from. But it was the best slice of pizza you ever had. Hands down, best slice ever.

— Leyner,
Intermediate Orgy of the Divine Hermit

10

As a starting point for this discussion, we may take the fact that it appears as if in the products of the unconscious — spontaneous ideas, phantasies and symptoms — the concepts feces (money, gift), baby and penis are ill-distinguished from one another and are easily interchangeable. 

— Sigmund Freud,
“On Transformations of Instinct
as Exemplified in Anal Erotism”

11

The fate of an insect which struggles between life and death, somewhere in a nook sheltered from humanity, is as important as the fate and the future of the revolution.

— Rosa Luxemburg

12

My dead puggle, who is my guru and my Butoh teacher, came to me in a dream last night and gave me three names: “Fizzy Physiognomy,” “Noh Brainer,” and “Oh Valve.” He commanded me to go to Kermunkachunk with Gaby and write an ethnography of the Chalazian Mafia Faction.

— Leyner,
Penultimate Orgy of the Divine Hermit

13

ASSISTANT DA: Miss Smith, is it true that you live at 5135 Kensington Avenue?

ESTHER SMITH: Yes, that’s correct.

ASSISTANT DA: And Mr. Truett lives at 5133?

ESTHER SMITH: Yes.

ASSISTANT DA: And is it not also a fact that you just adore him and can’t ignore him?

ESTHER SMITH: Yes . . . that’s true.

ASSISTANT DA: Now, did there come a time when the day was bright and the air was sweet?

ESTHER SMITH: Yes.

ASSISTANT DA: And the smell of honeysuckle charmed you off your feet?

DEFENSE COUNSEL: Objection!

COURT: Overruled. Miss Smith, you may answer the question.

ESTHER SMITH: I suppose. Yes.

ASSISTANT DA: Miss Smith, isn’t it true that you tried to sing, but couldn’t squeak, and that, in fact, you loved him so you couldn’t even speak?

ESTHER SMITH: [inaudible]

ASSISTANT DA: Miss Smith, speak up, please.

ESTHER SMITH: Yes.

ASSISTANT DA: And if I were to say, he doesn’t know you exist, no matter how you may persist — would that be an accurate statement?

ESTHER SMITH: I’m not sure. I guess . . .

ASSISTANT DA: Your Honor, permission to treat witness as hostile.

COURT: Go ahead.

ASSISTANT DA: Miss Smith, I don’t want you to guess. Does Mr. Truett not know you exist, no matter how you may persist, or does he?!

ESTHER SMITH: He does not. There’s a great hubbub in the courtroom. Reporters rush out into the piazza, jabbering into their cellphones.

COURT: Order! Order!!

ESTHER remains on the witness stand, sobbing inconsolably. 

— Meet Me in St. Louis: Special Victims Unit

14

When you get to the very bottom, you will hear a knocking from below.

— Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

15

It’s hard at times not to root for the bats, not to dream of walking into the cave with my arms outstretched: “Take me!”

— Mavis Beacon

The WAITER returns.

GABY

OK . . . We’re going to do #1, the Hölderlin: “Not without wings may one / Reach out for that which is nearest.”

WAITER

Beautiful choice.

GABY

The #2, the Mira Gonzalez: “Pooping while menstruating is one of the most psychedelic experiences a person can have.” The #10, the Freud, from “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism.” And #15, the Mavis Beacon. 

The WAITER makes a few theatrical conjuring gestures with his hands—

WAITER

Voilà. Your Big-Character Posters are mounted on the piazza. As we speak, they’re being read aloud by small, heedless clusters of Kermunkachunkians swaying back and forth on their feet.

FATHER
(chin in palm, rotely reciting from one of the screens)

Shuckling.

WAITER

Would you folks like something from the bar?

FATHER

Does Oprah like bread?

What happens next is not “good” (in the sense of “good writing”).

But it is an absolutely accurate, documentary account of GABY teasing the WAITER, acting “goofy” for the benefit of her FATHER, in a reenactment of a scene from an episode of Lizzie McGuire, a Disney show starring Hilary Duff that they used to love watching so much together when GABY was little, the two of them curled up on the couch, a guilty pleasure of these Deleuze-​quoting snobs, adorable little GABY and her dad. So much love between them!

These are two people so lost in their own private folie á deux that they’re reenacting episodes from Lizzie McGuire that were never actually made, that exist only in their shared imaginations. But they’re reenacting them verbatim, as if there had actually been an episode in which Lizzie and her dad were at the Bar Pulpo in Kermunkachunk and Lizzie was teasing the waiter with goofy or scabrous drink orders, with cocktails named after radical feminist assassins.

This is what truly scares the WAITER. (He isn’t entirely acting. Or, to put it a better way: the act is an act.) It’s this ferocious privacy of theirs.

This would be almost impossible for an audience to understand were it not for the fact that it’s all in the brochure and streaming on the screens.

These stage directions are written by God — that is to say, by the one who ever pulls out the rug from under the rug-​puller-​outer. (“God” in the sense of an omnipotent, superintelligent machine AI.)

They are dedicated to those restive Chalazian Mafia Faction street soldiers who hurl enucleated eyeballs at the windows of the Bar Pulpo like a disgruntled audience throwing rotten tomatoes at a stage.

They represent an ideology of implacable antipathy toward everything and everyone. (They are further dedicated to the bats and insectoid robots who will inherit the earth.)

When posted on Instagram, they typically get something on the order of 1082 or one hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion “ likes.”

WAITER

Just so you know, we’re all out of the Whac‑a‑Mole IPA, unfortunately.

GABY

Do you guys do a Valerie Solanas Dirty Girl Scout here?

WAITER
(thinks for a moment, then shakes his head)

I’m not exactly sure what that is.

GABY’s teasing him, in a specific manner intended to impress her father, perhaps without even being fully aware of it.

GABY

I’m a Girl Scout, you’re a creepy old widower who lives alone in a dilapidated house at the end of some dark cul‑de‑sac. I knock on the door to sell you cookies. When you answer, I drop to my knees, open wide for a squirt of chocolate syrup, and then take a shot of peppermint schnapps. So, it’s like a Thin Mint.

WAITER

I don’t get it. What’s the Valerie Solanas part?

Then, there’s a sound as if reality itself is being torn along a perforated diagonal.

GABY leaps up, grabs a small, serrated white disposable plastic knife from the table (the weapon of choice used to such gruesome effect in so many Don’t Let This Robot Suck Your Dick Productions martial arts action flix) and puts it to the Adam’s apple of the WAITER.

(Surprised by this? By her leap into the abyss? Don’t be. While the other children were getting ballet lessons or swimming or playing soccer after school, little GABY — shy, introverted, reticent, wary little GABY — surprised everyone by opting to take Sayoc Kali knife fighting classes in the basement of a Filipino church in Bayonne, perhaps anticipating, even then, a life of perilous adventure in film and anthropology.)

GABY

The Valerie Solanas part is: then, I fuckin’ slit your throat, because, uh . . . because . . .

(she sneaks a peek at one of
the spoken-​word karaoke screens)

. . . because the Girl Scouts have sentenced you to death, you perverted scumbag!

Again, she’s clearly playing to her father. Because she respects him so much, and his opinion of her means everything.

The WAITER seems genuinely stunned, his heart is racing, his breathing is rapid and shallow, he’s perspiring profusely, etc., etc.

Similar scenes are playing out, of course, all over the Bar Pulpo (which, in a former incarnation, was known as King Kong Couscous). Almost all the “daughters” (both consanguineous and cosplaying) have white plastic knives to the throats of their waiters at this very moment.

It’s one of those rare instances when, working from the same screens, each and every “ father” and “daughter” at the Bar Pulpo has momentarily synchronized, i.e., improbably fallen upon the same passage in the same subvariant of the folktale, a subvariant the provenance of which, like those spectral, wholly endopsychic episodes of Lizzie McGuire, is difficult for even the most scrupulous ethnographers to verify.

But here we are.

GABY

I’m teasing you!

But she still has him in a headlock, the knifepoint causing a bright drop of FX blood to ooze from his squib.

Yet her mind is elsewhere.

Like some nostalgic alumna munching on marzipan golf balls, she’s experiencing a flood of memories —

GABY

I must have drunk, like, a thousand of those during Kappa Delta pledge week at the New School . . .

The WAITER “seems” (he’s acting, presumably — or is he?) terror-​stricken.

GABY

Andy, I’m kidding! I’m teasing you!

(then, whispering in his ear)

My father’s sister, Anna Nicole Newman, was one of the three American gymnasts who drowned in livestock excreta when their spacecraft crashed into the manure lagoon in Castilla–La Mancha in 2027. So that’s probably a subject you should try to avoid tonight.

The headlock has morphed into a sort of frozen tango. The WAITER, his head thrown back, and now understanding that this whole charade has been a pretext for a collegial heads‑up about a sore subject, winks at GABY

WAITER

Good to know. Thanks.

FATHER

Does she look like someone who’d drink peppermint schnapps?!

WAITER
(reading from a spoken-​word karaoke screen) 

Not at all.

FATHER

When she was seven and all her friends were clamoring to watch The Little Mermaid, Gaby wanted to watch Dziga Vertov’s Three Songs About Lenin and Michael Snow’s Wavelength.

GABY
(laughing)

That’s such bullshit!

But it’s not bullshit. It’s true. Her first Halloween costume was the green-cloaked, nystagmic albino from Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother.

Although the solemn, ritual enactment of these fabricated scenes from Lizzie McGuire does not constitute “good writing,” it vividly demonstrates the zeal with which GABY and the FATHER will sacrifice anyone on the altar of their tiny cult of two.

And although this obtains for the dramatis personae on any given Father/Daughter Nite, it is particularly true for this particular GABY and this particular FATHER on this particular Nite.

For a moment — for just that one instant — in the sudden flash of lurid light refracted through the gore-​encrusted windows, every woman in the bar, every “daughter,” looks as though she’s wearing a Kappa Delta Bid Day crop top, and every “ father” looks like a scrofulous widower answering the door.

FATHER

We’re doing gravy shots all night, bruh.

(he slips him a hundred-​dollar bill)

Just keep ’em coming.

“Gravy” is, of course, the fiery, high-​proof vermifuge that’s considered the national drink of Chalazia.

The WAITER exits.

Conscientious ethnographers, the FATHER and GABY are both frantically scribbling notes in crayon on their place mats.

In marked contrast to the explosive, id‑driven chaos out on the piazza, there’s nothing remotely spontaneous about any of this. It’s all a very predetermined, choreographed, almost liturgical sequence of events.

So, let’s not confuse or somehow conflate these abstract figurations, these refined, highly aestheticized pantomimes, with the very real stomach-​churning violence that’s taking place outside.

Nor should we forget the cool, detached, sublimated shuffling of the lettered tiles by Divine Hermits levitated slightly above their seats in the Floating Casino on Lake Little Lake, that primordial, cosmogenic activity from which arises all phenomena, that shuffling whose consequences are emitted into our collective imagination and externally as empirical reality.

From this infra-​language come both those poignant folktales that stream across the spoken-​word karaoke screens at the Bar Pulpo on Father/Daughter Nite and the murders and grotesque mutilations that take place out on the piazza.

But what does it say about us as a society that amidst these nightmarish massacres, these orgies of violence, in which deranged young CMF street soldiers (these ex‑musical-​theater kids) slaughter and mutilate one another, people flock to the Bar Pulpo (formerly King Kong Couscous), on that very piazza, each and every Thursday night to recite and reenact folktales about dying fathers and their heartbroken daughters, those wrenching melodramas (streaming on screens), those “scabrous weepies,” as the screenwriter Jeremy Pikser (War, Inc.; Bulworth; The Lemon Sisters) has christened them?

It is, to quote the brochure, “ like enjoying a night out with friends at Applebee’s as the Kishinev pogrom rages outside.”

No one knows how they got there. The level of violence is so high that it’s too dangerous to travel anywhere within Kermunkachunk right now. To even attempt to traverse the piazza in order to enter the Bar Pulpo would be an act of suicide.

Via the brochure: “It’s like just finding yourself somewhere, as if in a kind of fugue state.”

And surely it’s occurred to many of the “Fathers” that, as per the folktale, they may not get out alive.

Yet here they are.

Whatever it is that’s drawing crowds each and every Thursday night — the contrast between the gemütlichkeit on the inside and the barbarism on the outside, the free-​flowing gravy, the emotionally titillating screens, the cacophony of language, etc., etc. — Father/Daughter Nite is financially the Bar Pulpo’s home run, its cash cow. And presumably, the same obtains for Bar Pulpo franchises around the world.

There’s a one-​hundred-​dollar cover charge per couple. (Hence, the FATHER slipping the WAITER that bill to, re: the gravy shots, “ just keep ’em coming.”)

FATHER
(looking up from his notes)

Y’know, I’m surprised you went with the Beacon. I was sure you’d pick the McLuhan or the Rosa Luxemburg or even something from First Orgy.

GABY

Mavis Beacon is the greatest typing teacher in history . . .

GABY takes a drag from her vape and gestures evocatively in the air with it.

GABY

. . . so I thought it afforded us an opportunity to obliquely allude to, via Big-Character Poster, the Professor’s lovely line from his Introduction about a “shimmering moiré field of pre-discursive keystrokes.”

FATHER

Fuck the Professor.

GABY

What’s wrong with the Professor?

FATHER

I don’t want to get into all that now. Let’s have some fun, have some drinks. We’ll talk about it later.

GABY shrugs.

GABY

OK.

There’s an awkward silence.

FATHER

The waiter’s a good guy, don’t you think?

GABY
(shrugs, noncommittal)

He’s OK.

FATHER

He’s very talented. You know, he seemed genuinely terrified.

GABY

He should have been. I was seriously considering actually slitting his throat. For a moment, I really felt like one of those rabid lunatics out on the piazza!

They both crack up and fist-​bump.

FATHER

You know he went to Stagedoor. Maybe you two were there at the same time.

GABY

How do you know he went to Stagedoor?

FATHER

It says it right here in the brochure:

(reading)

“Stagedoor Manor performing arts summer camp, Loch Sheldrake, New York. Summer of 2000, 2001, 2002.”

GABY, who’d spent the summers of 2007 and 2008 at Stagedoor Manor in Loch Sheldrake (whose woods are inhabited by Kabbalists and mercenaries), makes note of the WAITER’s attendance without further comment.

On the place mats, an accretion of crayon-​doodled equations, multiplex movie times, spur‑of‑the-​moment rewrites of dialogue from the spoken-​word karaoke screens, stick figure caricatures of other “ fathers” and “daughters,” etc., etc.

In the brochure, a kid-​friendly, connect-​the-​dots chart of the constellations, in which we find (facilitated by the psychoactive effect of the “gravy”) the supernal palaces upon which the architectural design of the Floating Casino is predicated.

Vague shapes moving out on the piazza are discernible through the gore-​encrusted windows: the scintillating, oblong shadows of people running past; blurs, smears, and Rorschach blots; holographic cowboys and squid; plumes of pink ink . . .

The ghosts of that extinct lumpen-​proletariat of coolies and cycle-​rickshaw drivers who now, in time-​lapsed, blue-​tinted zigzags, crosshatch the swamp-​like phosphorescence of this dreamscape . . .

The iridescent shimmers or flashes of light that we associate with a transient ischemic attack or “ministroke.”

Smells waft in: raw sewage, melting plastic, charred tulips, computer duster, Cinnabon, etc., etc.

The WAITER returns with the drinks and exits.

Later:

FATHER
(reading from the brochure)

If a super-hot Chalazian Mafia Faction street soldier offered you the enucleated eyeball of one of his sub-factional enemies, you would:

A. Throw up.
B. Politely say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
C. Immediately put it on ice, in the event that his enemy is still alive and the eye can be reattached by an ophthalmic surgeon.
D. Wash it down with a shot of gravy to show that you’re “down,” and passionately make out with him.

GABY

Hmmm . . .

(she thrums her fingers on the table,
pretending to mull it over, then—)

D!

They crack up, fist-​bump, etc., etc.

__________________________________

Excerpted from Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit by Mark Leyner, with the permission of Little Brown and Company. Copyright © 2021 by Mark Leyner.




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