In fragments and vignettes, character studies and expositions when I joined a writer’s group about a decade ago was a novel I never wrote. It involved a murder in Texas, a new social-media phenomenon called Affinitar based on an industrial psychology personality assessment called the Blyther-Carney Assay, or “Ed’s little test.” The character emerging most clearly in my mind was not the narrator but his best friend, a charismatic, cultural curator of a teenage outcast named Oz, to whom all my most interesting language was assigned. It took me strange places.
Oz has stayed with me. Why, here he is now, in a vignette I found on the hard drive this morning.
Down in Tyler, Texas, football star Taylor Hoculi lay in critical condition from gunshots issued by a teenage loner named Dane Gronkonkwen in retaliation for a malicious online character assault Hoculi had led via a popular social interaction “eGanism” called The Affinitar.
“Texas hangover,” said Oz, barely looking up from a collection of old dirty ballads, edited by X.J. Kennedy.
There was no explanation for Oz. He was idiopathic. Like me, he had been to see Dr. Zume from the planet Earth. His aunt Tia — the low-productivity artist with no other apparent means of support — had noticed that all Oz ever did was read and talk. This seemed imbalanced to her. She didn’t like his body shape, either, or his hair sheen, and a spiritual counselor friend had suggested that his posture, his whole aspect, was dumpy, not good at all: “Impoverished, imprisoned.”
“Mi tia Tia” said Oz, in his fedora, the last hope of the dumpy, “decided to pursue an insane medical course before committing wholly to a spiritual cure.”
They rounded the candy poll out front — corkscrewing, seasonally, into a bouquet of weeds —and ascended to Dr. Zume’s office above the abandoned barbershop.
“Zume,” said Oz, “looked like he had just landed.” I knew what he meant — his hair a frozen whoosh, his glasses dense and fogged. Mouth-breathing and urgent.
“Aunty made complaint: ‘He reads. He talks. Aren’t they supposed to do more than that?’”
“’What do you read?’ asked Zume,
“’What do you got?’ said Oz.”
How about the new biography of Linus Pauling?
“’I don’t prefer biographies,” Oz told him, “but I did read a piece in Anthropology Street about the orthomolecular movement after Pauling.”
And they were off. With his many-shawled aunt looking on, Oz jammed with Zume, foundering eventually on a disagreement over whether the medieval French penal system had anticipated what we now call the network HMO.
“What you have is serious. I am going to write you a prescription,” Zume said, scribbling on a pad, ripping off the sheet and passing it over.
It was the name of a local tailor.
“Find a suit that fits you,” said Dr. Zume from the planet Earth, “and stick with it.”