Friday, September 16, 2005

Zero Station
(prologue to the new novel)

by Greg Ippolito

October 4, 2001

Ready for your first song chunk?

It’s an easy game to play. I give you a chunk of song lyric, you give me band name and song title. Ready? Go:

emancipate yourself from mental slavery

Wait, stop. Too easy. Consider that a warm up. Let’s try again. Ready? Go:

phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust

That’s right. The Clash. “London Calling.” Well done. Andy would’ve nailed that before “has.”

Andy and I play this game all day, emailing each other back and forth, passing the time at our respective jobs. I emailed this one to him just this morning:

my hands are tied

—and within seconds, a new message popped up in my Inbox. I double- clicked his name and read: body bruised... dude, stop. this is insulting.

Far too easy. Fuck me. Maybe I’ll hit him with a lyric from the White Album.

He always struggles with those.

It’s been 26 months since either of us has stumped the other—and yours truly was the unlucky contestant. Early one rainy July morning, Andy hit me with (of all lines): “Music is a world within itself”—the opening to Stevie’s “Sir Duke.” But my head was still echoing with some Sex Pistols I’d been blasting in the car on the ride in, and my brain just failed to search the R&B files that lay in the recesses of its music library.

We hadn’t been song chunking in quite a few weeks—since before 9/11. It just didn’t feel right. But when I walked in this past Monday, the vibe felt a little lighter, a little closer to normal. So I shot him an easy R.E.M. chunk—the first line of “Rockville”—to get it started again…and just like that, the handcuffs were off.

Anyway, I was in a particularly good mood on Monday because I’d just finished my book—the book you’re about to read. And I was at my desk earlier today with nothing to do (as usual), so I stared writing this introduction. I should say, I was staring at my monitor, watching the cursor blink, trying to think up a clever way to launch this thing, when the “new message” tone sounded and I gladly clicked over to my Inbox. It was Andy, of course, chunking me with this:

let your soul and spirit fly

…into the mystic. Jeanine’s favorite song. Not that Andy knew that. A serendipitous chunk, to be sure.

Jeanine, my mom, died about seven months ago. Lung cancer. What a fucking cliché. You never think about how you might die, but no one wants to die of a fucking cliché. She spent her last two weeks in hospice. The people there were lovely, lovely. She died in her sleep, all morphined- out—just sort of slipped away. It was a long time coming, no surprise to anyone, so I don’t think it very surprising that I didn’t cry.

I did cry three days later, the night before the viewing. My brother Billy and I went to the funeral home to see her body. I knelt down by the casket and looked at her powdered, waxy face…and I wailed. I wailed and convulsed, clutched the taffeta trim around her pillow. I pounded her chest and pinched the heel of my fist on the wire caging under her blouse. My mom was gone, really gone. They didn’t even leave her flesh for the worms.

Everyone was there the next morning. It was moving to see how many people came out to say goodbye or show support or pay their respect or whatever. Andy was a pallbearer. But above the solemnity, I carried an odd bitterness with me that day—I felt pissed that she didn’t hold on a little longer, just long enough for me to finish this book. She was, to a large degree, the reason I wrote it. I always felt I owed her an explanation for what happened during those three days in February 1991. You know, let her get into my head and understand what was going on from my point of view; show her that I wasn’t just a totally heartless fucking asshole. Almost ten years I’d been working on this fucking thing, and I was almost done… Ten years. And I’m pissed at her for not waiting longer. What a joke.

Ten years. Shit, that’s a long time. Or is it? It’s a long goddamn time to be writing something, anyway. I just hope that, over that stretch, I maintained some level of clarity. Andy and I had this kick-ass history teacher back in high school, Mister Zanello (who makes a nice little appearance in this book, actually). He said something once that I wrote down, and have since read it and re-read it and copied it a million times. He said:

“The truth is clear and pure as water---but man, while
gazing into that pool but unable to see it, can lose his
mental grip and spill salty tears of shame and broken
dreams, adding his own hazy drops of subjectivity.”

You should keep this in mind as you read my story. I mean, as honest as I’ve tried to be writing it, I can’t really vouch for how technically accurate it is. I did what I could with the past. The details may be pieced together from selective memory, many of them massaged and reconstructed for certain, but that’s not to say they aren’t the truth. The brain and the heart have their own will, I think, and we’re wise to give them a good amount of our faith; so I let the important things come back to me as they would and wrote them down; I trusted them to tell the tale. And I’m guessing that the parts of this story that are most wistful-- the rare moments that pluck the very note that makes me quiver from the inside till I just about fall apart--must be the ones that are most true. Or maybe, these are merely chunks of nostalgia… gems that somehow formed in the cloudy mineral tank of my personal history while my conscious mind was somewhere else. To be honest, I don’t know which are more precious.

Andy just emailed me:

dude, you there? i chunked you an hour ago. what up?

Oh yeah, Van Morrison. Almost forgot. I better go put him in his place. Hit him with “lizard on a window pane” and let him choke on that for awhile.

Man, I just wish Jeanine were here. Here to read this, to absorb my full
explanation line by line. Then finally, maybe, she’d understand. Would have understood, I mean. That’s one devastating change in tense, isn’t it? The fucking past, man. All the good memories you have: moments you can never live again. And all the bad ones, those unspeakable things you did (or failed to do): regrets in stone cold cement.

Well now you know me, more or less. And what follows on the other side of this page is my account of what happened to me during the last three days of the Persian Gulf War. No, I wasn’t there (in Iraq, I mean). This is a Jersey story (mostly). But it’s a war. You’ll see.

Ready? Go.

For more information on the author or the novel Zero Station,
please contact Mr. Ippolito at

No comments: