Going to Edinburgh

Phillip Parotti

I’m packed. I’m ready to go. My intention is to travel light. I will take my razor and toothbrush. So as not to be loaded down with baggage, I will wear a wash and wear togs so that I can occasionally step into the shower and emerge fresh. And I will take my brolly. The streets of Edinburgh are often wet when the North Sea winds blow through, so I expect rain.

Felix opposes my going.

“Hap,” Felix says, “the whole idea is absurd. Gregory Corso is not to be found on Princess Street. William Burroughs will not be found wandering the Royal Mile. You will discover no new metaphors beneath the ceiling of Waverly Station. Give it up, Hap. Stay here and write.”

Felix is a typical nay-sayer. When I wanted to go to Paris to meet someone like Fitzgerald or Hemingway, Felix opposed my going any farther east than New Orleans.

“Faulkner went to New Orleans,” Felix said. “Had we been born in Chicago or Cleveland. . .well, Paris might be appropriate, but as a Southerner, you have a duty to maintain tradition. New Orleans it must be, or—at the least—Memphis.”

We went to New Orleans, to the Quarter, and for a year, while Felix tried to paint, I tried to write poems. To support myself, I washed dishes at Le Chat botte. Contrary to what Felix had promised, I found no metaphors amidst the suds at Le Chat.

“Perhaps,” Felix said, “we have acted precipitously. Perhaps we should return to our roots. You need not cease your journey of discovery, but by going home to Huntsville, you may arrive where you started and know the place for the second time.”

“The idea sounds idiotic,” I said. What the hell do you have in mind? A triptych on East Texas hunting rituals?”

“By getting in touch with our roots,” Felix said, “we will come to know them.”

I went. . .that is, I returned with Felix to Huntsville where for two years I worked at Wal-Mart while trying to write poems without metaphors. Felix applied paint to canvas, paper, plywood, Masonite, old lumber, bricks, sheets of tin, and discarded sheetrock.

“Finding the right medium is essential,” Felix said.

“Huntsville is Huntsville,” I said.

“So look to our roots and write,” Felix said.

I looked to our roots. I couldn’t escape them, not in Huntsville. Around Huntsville, the pines, oaks, and sweet gums are so thick that everyone else in Texas refers to us as the root people. The label is pejorative and has to do with Huntsville’s congenital inability to see the forest for the roots.

“Felix,” I said finally, “this isn’t working for me. I’m stifled. Returning to our roots has produced for me precisely the feelings that trips home produced for Philip Larkin, feelings of utter despondency punctuated by moments of acute depression.”

“Nonsense,” Felix said. “Look around you. The magnolias are in bloom, the pecans are ripening on the trees, the sun is shining, and Ellie Dibbs has never looked better.”

“The scent of magnolias makes me want to throw up,” I said. “I don’t now and never have liked pecan pie, and the humidity around here is enough to smother a goat. For crying out loud, Felix, it was 107 degrees yesterday! If that constitutes a metaphor, it must be a metaphor for hell! I’m done. I’m leaving. I want to search for new metaphors and make love in a cold climate. Ellie Dibbs is not for me, and if I stay here, I’d be committing myself for life to the rank sweat of an enseamed bed.”

“Write through it,” Felix said. “I know you can.”

That was last week, and for the past seven days, Felix has kept it up, expounding the same theme, encouraging me to stay, but I can’t. I’ve got to go, and I’ve got to go now. If I don’t, life will become a hollow cliché, and I’m afraid that I will awaken one morning to find myself writing like Barbara Cartland or, worse, creating techno-sonnets.

“I’m going to Edinburgh,” I say. “If you elect to swelter here amidst the roots, marry Ellie, and go on painting copperheads and rednecks, do it with my blessing, but I’ve got to go. I want to go to Edinburgh, stroll down Canongate, find writers like Paul Bowles or Gregory Corso, talk to them, and feel stimulated to punch through the vapor. I want to find new metaphors, and those kinds of guys might be able to put me in touch with a few.”

Felix is distraught. Felix and I go way back, and he doesn’t want to see me split.

“Burroughs is dead,” Felix says. “Corso was in San Francisco, but he’s dead too, and while Bowles spent a life in Tangiers, he is gone as well. Be reasonable. Everything you could want is right here.”

“Sorry,” I said, “but you’re wrong. Nothing I want is here. And the only thing I want is to penetrate the vapors. I’ll pack light and take the Nova Express, and you are more than welcome to the baggage I’m leaving behind. Who knows, I may even meet someone like Kerouac over there, and when I do, I expect him to enliven the road.”

“Mark my words,” Felix says, “within six months, you’ll be back, trying to reintegrate, and the shrinks will take you for every cent you haven’t got. If you’re really smart, Hap, you’ll. . .”

But I do not stay to listen. Instead, I do my Gene Pasternak impression and GO.


About the Author

Previously, Phillip Parotti has published two volumes of short stories and a novel about The Trojan War. Additionally, he has published numerous short stories and essays in little magazines. Now retired from a long teaching career spent at Sam Houston State University, he resides in New Mexico where he continues to write while also working as a print artist.