Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Memory of Debbie Goad

I never met her, only exchanged a few impersonal emails with her in trying to track down her ex-husband. But the essays under her name in Answer Me! made a great impression upon. I was sorry to learn of her death.

I wrote this a year or so ago:

George: Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference, eh toots? Eh?

The woman struggles to lift herself from the bathtub. She has to take baths, now. It is too tiring to stand under the shower. And the jets of water feel like liquid darts pricking her skin and aggravating her assaulted-by-chemotherapy, ultra-sensitive nerve endings.

She stands naked in front of a mirror. Aged beyond her years, bald, emaciated, veins shining green through her pale, nearly translucent skin. Ah, that skin--that little bit of flesh that does remain to cover her bones--it is so moribund it can only hang loose and sag. Sag to the earth. The gravity of death literally pulling her flesh down into the grave.

It is impossible that while she stood there examining her naked body she did not observe to herself how closely she resembled a concentration camp victim.

The woman had concluded her essay I Hate Being A Jew (and it certainly must be ranked as one of the two or three greatest essays of the 20th century. . .the brilliant but ghastly humor of self-and-family loathing delivered in the author's peculiar narrative voice. . .an eerily bland voice. . .a creepy monotone of matter-of-fact moroseness) with the following:

"I wish there was a perfume I could sprinkle on myself to mask the Hebraic stench. I even have a name for it: Final Solution. But the oppressive smell won't go away until I'm stone-cold dead, a lifeless Jewess in my own private Auschwitz."

There is a stench to everyone, whether they be Jew or Greek. But the Final Solution won't mask that foul stink.

George: Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference, eh toots? Eh?

Franz Stangl, Treblinka Kommandant, was asked when he first stopped thinking of the victims as human: "I think it started the day I first saw the Totenlager in Treblinka. I remember Wirth standing there, next to the pits full of blue-black corpses. It had nothing to do with humanity--it couldn't have; it was a mass--a mass of rotting flesh. Wirth said, 'what shall we do with this garbage?' I think unconsciously that started me thinking of them as cargo. . .I rarely saw them as individuals. It was always a huge mass. I sometimes stood on the wall and saw them in the tube. But, how can I explain it, they were naked, packed together, running, being driven with whips."

It is a disturbing thought, and yet, what of those not covered by the Blood of Christ? Surely they will be exited from The Judgment in a more dignified manner. . .but their eternal place of residence, the Lake of Fire. . .it is a fearsome thought. . .what is the Totenlager compared to the Lake of Fire? But in this world of lying vanities, man does not see himself as the garbage he truly is. In the end, the one great mystery is the love of God. That the Almighty would put on the flesh of man and condescend to inhabit man's garbage dump and willingly suffer the indignities of the Cross--all the while knowing the vast majority of mankind would laugh as His Spilled Blood. Beyond understanding. . .but thank you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Already the effects of the hot bath begin to wear off. The chill returns. She takes one last look at herself in the mirror. . .trying to determine how much more death she has put on since yesterday. Perhaps the cheeks seem a trifle more hollow? She steps into a pair of slippers and wraps herself in a warm robe. She painstakingly pads to the kitchen, stopping only to nudge the thermostat from 74 to 76.

The woman takes a dirty glass and a bottle of wine from the kitchen and eases her way into the bedroom. She sits at a desk in front of a computer. On the computer desktop there is a text file titled *me.* It is her story. Her autobiography. She double-clicks *me.* She gulps wine as she reads her most recent entries.

George: Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference, eh toots? Eh?

Everybody wants to tell their story. Most people tell it to you everyday--whether you want to hear it or not. Co-workers, relatives, *friends,* they rape your ear with their version of their life. It is an urge they cannot control. God spoke the world into existence. The creature, cut off from the Creator and doomed to death, tries to save himself with his own stories. He tries to speak his version of his life into existence. But it is a lie. An unnatural story. It violates the Law of Creation. So when a *friend* corners you at a *party* and tells you their side of the story, you know their sterile words will just float through space. Float out into the dark and cold universe until the words drift to close to a black hole. . .where they will be sucked into an astronomical prison and compressed, along with all the other sides of all the other stories, into a microscopic dot of untruth.

There is an earthly prison not too many miles from where the woman sits drinking and thinking about her story. Her ex-husband resides in this prison, pencil in hand, and works on his story. As husband and wife they attained a degree of notoriety. Thus, their personal tribulations and failures became matters of public debate--in contrast to the lives of you and I, who comprise that indistinguishable mass of humanity whose own failures are noised no further than the apartment building or neighborhood they occur in. Therefore, you and I ad lib monologues of justification to the handful who have witnessed the anonymous failure that is our life, whereas the husband and wife will craft books, public records, meant to express their side of the spectacle that is Goad. Of course, in escaping the flat plane of drab humanity in which you and I reside, the Goad's story becomes three dimensional. And so there is a third side to the story.

George: Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference, eh toots? Eh?

The Goad marriage was barren. Their union produced no offspring. They were the George and Martha of zines. The Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? George and Martha of zines. Of course, one would not cast Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as Jim and Debbie Goad. Being the George and Martha of zines is of a considerable magnitude less than being the symbolic First Family of the nation, as the George and Martha of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? are. Hence, John Saxon and Kay Lenz would make a suitable Goad cast.

In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? George and Martha compensated for their infertile marriage by birthing an imaginary son. He existed exclusively in words. . .in the conversations between George and Martha. They spoke him into being.

Zinedom's first family had an imaginary daughter. The third side of the story. Unfortunately, Jim and Debbie Goad's imaginary daughter had a little more flesh and blood than George's and Martha's imaginary son.

We read the following in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:

GEORGE: . . .the real reason our son used to throw up all the time, wife and lover, was nothing more complicated than that he couldn't stand you fiddling
at him all the time, breaking into his bedroom with your kimono flying, fiddling at him all the time, with your liquor breath on him, and your hands all over his. . .

This hint of incest is fully developed in the less artful Goad version, though the gender roles are reversed. No need to recount here the much-talked about details of the Jim Goad/Sky Ryan coupling. Note only that Sky Ryan was young enough to be the Goad's daughter, and once the Jim/Sky relationship drew its last, a peculiar mother-daughter bond formed between Debbie and Sky.

In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Martha violated her's and George's own private Law of Creation by speaking about their imaginary son to another person. As a result, George had to terminate the delusion.

GEORGE: You broke our rule, baby. You mentioned him. . .you mentioned him to someone else.

The delusion of the new life Jim Goad and Sky Ryan were creating together ended in a somewhat similar, albeit more lowbrow, fashion. Ms. Ryan broke their private Law of Creation by writing on the Internet about Mr. Goad's nose job and hair implants.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has a happier ending than the Jim and Debbie Goad Story. After finishing with their imaginary son, George and Martha resolve to stay together until their own natural end. They realize it won't be easy or pleasant, but understand that they must stay together. Because they know they cannot survive on their own.

MARTHA: Just. . .us?

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

It is impossible that there were not moments when the Goads were content. I don't say they were happy. Maybe they were. Probably they weren't. One calls to mind the following passage from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and imagines its brutal *real life* fulfillment in the strange union that was Goad:

. . .whom I will not forgive for having come to rest; for having seen me and having said: yes; this will do; who has made the hideous, the hurting, the insulting mistake of loving me and must be punished for it.

They were one flesh. And now they are torn asunder. Examine the results. This, then, is the tragedy that is Goad.


Anonymous said...

This was genius. I particularly enjoyed the Vinginia Woolf analogy. It appears that someone's toadie is trying to make points via an anonymous comment.

Anonymous said...

Readers should remember that this is an imaginative essay and doesn't have to be factual any more than Walter Savage Landor's _Imaginary Conversations_ needed to take place in real life.

That said, I don't know how useful it is to project unanswerable questions onto the private life of a couple you don't actually know. You seem to be asking in earnest about things that a writer like Peter Sotos would assert with ridiculous certainty and have a lot more fun doing so. Ironically, asking in a thoughtful chin-stroking tone makes the effect less reasonable than insisting on the worst possible conclusions facetiously. Why exactly are you so sure their union was barren in terms of fulfillment? Isn't it just as likely that Jim Goad could have flipped out at the thought of losing his wife as it is that he simply stopped caring? And how exactly would we get the real story from parties engaged in self-promotion at the veritable turning point between zine and blog culture?

I agree that Debbie Goad was often a memorable writer -- but so was Jim Goad, as evidenced by his entries in the Suicide Issue (the descriptions of Plath and others are classic, carefully polished and tasteless all at the same time).

Answer Me was probably the most painstakingly written and revised amateur zine of the 90s. No one seems to realize that because they find Jim Goad's politics repugnant (even though he clearly started on the left at John Jay and argues his case well).