Have you ever had a beautiful experience that was suddenly marred by something ugly and unexpected? Have you ever walked the beach hand in hand with your beloved, waves lapping at your toes, only to have a hovering seagull squirt shit across your arm? When your firstborn was presented to you at the hospital, the child’s face full of unspeakable possibility, did he or she vomit in your hair? Piss in your lap?
I ask — crudely, I know — because of what you did to the copy of Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset that I recently checked out from my local library. What you did — in case you’ve somehow forgotten — was this: while reading this sad, lovely tale of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final days, you picked your nose. As O’Nan’s Fitzgerald drank his way through Hollywood with Humphrey Bogart and Sid Perelman, you explored your nostrils for the treasure within. And you didn’t stop there.
Instead of doing what a decent person does — cleaning one’s fingers with Kleenex or toilet paper, or rolling the evidence into a ball and flinging it behind the couch, wrongly assuming it will eventually disintegrate — you wiped it directly onto the pages of West of Sunset. And — not that this would excuse your barbarism — your boogers weren’t off to the side, limited to the margins, but directly across O’Nan’s glowing prose.
The effect of your wipery — on myself and anyone else unlucky enough to have borrowed West of Sunset after you — was this:
She was just leaving the floor, sweeping gaily along the fringe of the parquet in an ash-gray evening dress with a red velvet sash that accentuated ** BOOGER! **
His money was gone and there was blood on his jacket, and when he called Sheilah, before he uttered a word, ** BOOGER! **
They nattered on, Zelda mimicking Sara’s sleepy lilt, drawing out her ** BOOGER! **
Every 15 or 20 pages, I was ripped from the story by your nostril-rubbings, forced to grimace and soldier on. It’s a testament to O’Nan’s skill that I was able to finish the book; a lesser novel might have gone back to the library unfinished, me hesitantly returning to the stacks — now a little scarred, a little gun-shy.
How do you live your life, Booger-Wiper? My first instinct is to imagine your home as a mucus-smeared nightmare hovel, mold at the corners and suspicious stains everywhere. But upon further reflection, I think your home might actually be fairly tidy — seeing as how you so freely deposit your filth on things that don’t belong to you. If I lent you a pair of socks, what would lurk inside of them when I got them back? If I left a piece of Tupperware in your kitchen after a dinner party, would you return it to me, empty and clean? Or would it ruin my day?
Part of what’s so galling about your crime is that you chose this book to besmirch. West of Sunset is so elegant, so elegiac, so worthy of respect. If, unable to escape your foul pathology, you have to do this to a library book, why not do it to more deserving title? Try Fifty Shades Freed or Trump: The Art of the Deal. You’re obviously sick — that much is clear — but at the very least, don’t drag down Art with your slimy fingers.
To read West of Sunset — and I know you read it all, because your vandalism is evident to the end — while boogerizing its pages combines the high-minded and the gutter in an intriguing way. Putting aside my disgust for a moment, I must ask: Is there a pattern to your transgressions? When you go to the opera, do you ease out silent, queasy farts as the aria swells? When you enjoy a glass of long-cellared cabernet, do you drool into it first? Do you go unwashed for days, letting your armpits ferment, then revel in their stench as you stroll through a rose garden?
What the fuck is wrong with you?
I finished West of Sunset, despite the harm you inflicted upon it, and I’ve moved on to another library book: Mo Beta Blues, Questlove’s music-focused memoir. The odds that you’ve borrowed both seem slim to me, though I haven’t yet flipped through to check for your handiwork. But if I find so much as a flake of one of your awful rocks in Questlove’s book, you will hear from me, you repugnant snot-monster. That much is certain.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.