Since then I have read everything by DeLillo at least three times, collected all the first editions, written fan letters to DeLillo on a weekly basis (Don DeLillo, c/o Scribner, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10020), lurked around chat rooms dedicated to his work under a myriad of user names, sometimes picking fights with myself in order to assure victory. I have a bumper sticker on my car that reads “If You Love Don DeLillo You’re Too Close.” I have used Americana (DeLillo’s first novel) as a bedtime story for my sons. I hope to pass on something special to them through DeLillo’s linguistic code. My orange tabby, Barbara, is named after DeLillo’s wife.

It seems as though I was born to be a critic, zeroing in on different chinks in the cultural armor, deconstructing them, looking for an opening, always searching for a way out. I am a tragic and pathetic figure, an angry young man who resents giving you, dear reader, the literary facts of the day:

Born on November 20, 1936, Don DeLillo was raised in the Bronx, attended Catholic high school and later Fordham University. Like Salman Rushdie, he worked as a copywriter for Ogilvy and Mather before moving onto fiction. Unlike Rushdie, however, DeLillo has never been the target of an Islamic fatwa. He has never been buddy-buddy with Bono or undergone cosmetic surgery. DeLillo usually passes on such pomp and circumstance for a reason. Great writers and their work, he says, are “too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We’re all one beat away from becoming elevator music.” In keeping with his professed outsider status, DeLillo rarely grants interviews. He does not appear on Charlie Rose. He doesn’t write book reviews or participate in writing workshops or the academic life.

Last summer my DeLillo mania grew progressively worse. I experienced unexplained blackouts, alternating episodes of depression and euphoria. In July I made a DeLillo kachina doll out of old New York Times and scraps of cloth, perfectly proportioned to his thin, 145 pound frame. I began to experiment with DeLillo scratch-n-sniffs, a different smell for each of his books. In August I set up a small lab in my basement, complete with beakers and Bunsen burners. I have yet to complete my chemistry project but I imagine a gamut of literary aromas, each sticker in its own way a summation of plot, characters, and denouement. Here is what Ratner’s Star smells like. Go ahead. Scratch your screen:











I know this smell.

You know this smell.

Because we have slipped into the stream of DeLillo’s sensorium—the writer who once described himself as a literary terrorist; the writer who does not ruminate over subtle emotional shifts or the minor grievances of domestic life; the writer who does not deal “painfully and honestly” with the latest political crisis.

But as DeLillo prophecies, the culture that contains us eludes our desire to mark it, to use its content to remind us of our formal freedom. We are ever haunted by visions of a more complete self, an identity fully realized—a kinder, gentler, more articulate version—someone who volunteers, who makes a difference, who sinks the three-pointer at the buzzer, who publishes brilliant tomes, who captures the zeitgeist, who is loved unconditionally and bravely chooses a fate. This is the “naked shitmost self” that we believe, desperately, tragically, is there, somewhere. “Even when you self-destruct,” cautions a DeLillo character, “you want to fail more, lose more, die more than others, stink more than others.”

I know exactly what he is talking about. Because I am a humble apprentice. Because I have absorbed and digested Don DeLillo. Because I am the fungus that lurks between his toes.

This is my demonic side, the part that goes without saying, the part that is controlled from without, the part that we, dear reader, don’t like to admit to ourselves because we can’t. Like Livia Majeski from Valparaiso, “We feel things. We become addicted to things because life, itself, is habit forming. We start things and can’t stop.”

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