I write poems, yes. And also some book reviews for the Spectator.
The undergraduate rag.
Everyone has to start somewhere.
Not terribly. Half the people I know want to be writers.
Why do you say want? If you’re already doing it, then it’s not about the future. It already exists in the present.
Because it’s still too early to know if I’m good enough.
Do you get paid for your articles?
Of course not. It’s a college paper.
Once they start paying you for your work, then you’ll know you’re good enough.
Before I could answer, Born suddenly turned to Margot and announced: You were right, my angel. Your young man is a poet.
Margot lifted her eyes toward me, and with a neutral, appraising look, she spoke for the first time, pronouncing her words with a foreign accent that proved to be much thicker than her companion’s— an unmistakable French accent. I’m always right, she said. You should know that by now, Rudolf.
A poet, Born continued, still addressing Margot, a sometime reviewer of books, and a student at the dreary fortress on the heights, which means he’s probably our neighbor. But he has no name. At least not one that I’m aware of.
It’s Walker, I said, realizing that I had neglected to introduce myself when we shook hands. Adam Walker.
Adam Walker, Born repeated, turning from Margot and looking at me as he flashed another one of his enigmatic smiles. A good, solid American name. So strong, so bland, so dependable. Adam Walker. The lonely bounty hunter in a CinemaScope Western, prowling the desert with a shotgun and six- shooter on his chestnut- brown gelding. Or else the kind hearted, straight- arrow surgeon in a daytime soap opera, tragically in love with two women at the same time.
It sounds solid, I replied, but nothing in America is solid. The name was given to my grandfather when he landed at Ellis Island in nineteen hundred. Apparently, the immigration authorities found Walshinksky too difficult to handle, so they dubbed him Walker.
What a country, Born said. Illiterate officials robbing a man of his identity with a simple stroke of the pen.
Not his identity, I said. Just his name. He worked as a kosher butcher on the Lower East Side for thirty years.
There was more, much more after that, a good hour’s worth of talk that bounced around aimlessly from one subject to the next. Vietnam and the growing opposition to the war. The differences between New York and Paris. The Kennedy assassination. The American embargo on trade with Cuba. Impersonal topics, yes, but Born had strong opinions about everything, often wild, unorthodox opinions, and because he couched his words in a half- mocking, slyly condescending tone, I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. At certain moments, he sounded like a hawkish right- winger; at other moments, he advanced ideas that made him sound like a bomb- throwing anarchist. Was he trying to provoke me, I asked myself, or was this normal procedure for him, the way he went about entertaining himself on a Saturday night? Meanwhile, the inscrutable Margot had risen from her perch on the radiator to bum a cigarette from me, and after that she remained standing, contributing little to the conversation, next to nothing in fact, but studying me carefully every time I spoke, her eyes fixed on me with the unblinking curiosity of a child. I confess that I enjoyed being looked at by her, even if it made me squirm a little. There was something vaguely erotic about it, I found, but I wasn’t experienced enough back then to know if she was trying to send me a signal or simply looking for the sake of looking. The truth was that I had never run across people like this before, and because the two of them were so alien to me, so unfamiliar in their affect, the longer I talked to them, the more unreal they seemed to become— as if they were imaginary characters in a story that was taking place in my head.
Excerpted from Invisible by Paul Auster. Copyright © 2009 by Paul Auster. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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