I am standing outside Beverly Hills-centered Saban Theater, home of motivational speakers and obscure Hollywood events. A small crowd awaits the evening’s program – a B-list reading of David Foster Wallace’s final literary foray, The Pale King. Since he hung himself from a rope half a decade back, Wallace is not in attendance, although he is probably spinning in the dirt over the idea that this event attracts a virtual paparazzi – at commendation, the man recoiled like a post-coital penis.
Beneath the lengthening shadows, Converse shoes carry a ubiquitous stream of denim, topped by cotton, cashmere, worsted wool and various combinations of plaid as hypertrendy Hollywood-types attempt to fashion themselves something fashionable.
One twenty-something female is shrouded in what can only be termed pajamas, although clearly she intends to persuade onlookers otherwise, and there is a sense that these DFW “fans” are here more for the idea that they are being part of something cool, rather than having an actual like interest in the author and his latest release. I have coined the term “slobvious” to define a man with an overt ass crack, a low hanging hirsute belly whose button would be as difficult to find as Santa Claus’s mouth, and a body odor, which screams “Deodorant?” He is not handsome. A very large woman made the appropriate decision to wear a moo-moo.
Doors open at 7:00.pm. and the stampede to the bar indicates Wallace is better appreciated via fermentation. Inside, the sound is an arpeggio of cow moans and hen cackles. Two gay men appear to be sweating over a Shirley Temple’s cherry stem. There is the suggestive scent of a fading Tic-Tac. No one knows anyone here.
Mirrored walls adorn the entryway and several hideously vain pseudo-disciples surreptitiously adjust their bangs. Along the west side of the lobby, DFW’s archived collection sits table-bound beneath a price list which shouts “profit-motivated,” in front of two young bookselling employees whose disappointment at having to spend Friday night with an amalgamation of neophytic writers oozes from every rolled eye and pursed lip, you can just tell. Berber carpeting does nothing to muffle the stupidity.
Lobby lighting is cinematographically rusty, something like a psychiatrist’s office but without the analytical subtext. Several folks tote The Pale King, although clearly the purchase is more ceremonial than out of curiosity, since most of them carry the volumes the way a mother might cuddle her child. Worship has delicate hands. Many people are missing hair and the ones who have it wear it in ways that would confuse a compass. The breath mint appears to have faded. The female bartender is attractive like everyone in Hollywood is attractive, with the flirtatious lumineered-smile that suggests a casting couch BJ or a small part on some sitcom pilot, executively determined.
The theater itself is gothically-adorned in silver, and intimates something shrinish. Twelve plastic chairs rest behind metal podiums in what appears to be a horrible absence of forethought.
Several photographers scamper about shooting candids, halfheartedly pointing to the photo release attached to the theater door when annoyed attendees complain. One aspiring actor appears in at least nine different photos, smiling. At least three people express the strain of having not urinated before the performance. Pre-performance music floats above the crowd and Mick Jagger just lipped something about rape and murder being just a shot away. Lights dim. Voices diffuse into anticipatory silence. One man emits a bark-like cough.
Onstage, a moderator appears and delivers the CV’s of tonite’s cast, a laundry list of terminated sitcoms and supporting-squared actor roles, with the notable and apologetic absence of the most well-known star, presumably due to a last minute engagement (read: my agent neglected to tell me I’d be the evening’s Steven Biko). The intro to DFW feels like a eulogy, and a low hum emanates from the crowd like monks-on-the-chant.
The evening’s literary curator has selected several passages to which the actors will lend their tertiary talent in hopes of transcendently lifting Wallace’s words from page to L.A. wealthy suburb. For ninety minutes, it is a stock market chart of belly laughs and scarring sorrow. Twelve percent of the audience laughs regularly – the others presumably missing the jokes – while the various miked heads perform random tete-a-tete’s with DFW’s dialogue. At one point, a man in the fifth row reaches a convulsive spasm so powerful, audience members consider calling paramedics for fear of this being an epileptic episode.
Wallace’s humor is cliff’s edge, the danger lying in the subject matter’s off-limit’s nature – masturbation, dogshit-on-shoes, ass-in-face – and yet the brilliance comes with his turn or phrase, the unique ability to present off-color material in a way that makes anal suffocation laudable. The fucker can just plain write. Deeper down, The Pale King touches universal themes of life’s boredom, man’s ability to conquer world-weariness, and various tales of human compulsion.
And then with a simple two word phrase, it ends. Pressure leaves the room as worshippers file out with wide grins and rabid opinions. There is abundant joy tinged with a sadness that this is the last time David Foster Wallace’s words will appear. Rest well, Pale King, rest well.