New Orleans.--The editor of a travel magazine asked me to write some stories about places I go to.
Sure, I said, but I can't do 'em in the first person. There is a character inside me who's a much better traveler than I. His name is Pen, and he is a better observer, a sharper wit and a classier dude all around.
For instance, last year at Marienbad, the Pen found himself face to face with a maitre d' who disapproved of his blue jeans.
The Pen drew himself up to the uppermost point of his nib and demanded to see the owner of the establishment. The owner, a sour dwarf in an Armani three-piece with several jangling gold chunks on his fingers and around his neck, was illiterate but guilty about it.
When the Pen explained that he was the author of several highly regarded volumes of difficult verse, he was given dispensation and seated by the window with a view to the pale-green Mediterranean.
It was an overcast day and the bouillabaisse was overrated. Still, it was better than what one might find anywhere else.
The mussels held the fresh flavor of the Mediterranean sun within the tender firmness of their pulp, and the other coquilles were matched perfectly to the garlic and the extra-virgin olive oil. The Pen considered this dish to be the epitome of the Franco-Italian spirit, that civilized hybrid of sun, olives and poetry.
The Pen doesn't have a mission. In fact, he doesn't even have any business. His purpose is to be amused. "The word 'amuse' contains the muse," he often tells those of his acquaintances sporadically seized by curiosity. "And the muse is the force that drives this Pen," he concludes grandly.
The Pen travels because he is curious. He is arch though quite tolerant, he finds human foibles endearing but is unforgiving of pretention. What a crank!
The Pen, of course, is not alone, I told the editor. He keeps company with all sorts of portly, unmusical and lazy characters in me. Together they keep the tedium of self at bay. I, as Rimbaud said, is another. And another. And one more.
Andrei Codrescu is editor of Exquisite Corpse.