New From Cold Turkey: ‘Pricelessly Outrageous’

When Carl Weissner died, unexpectedly, he was only 71. “Le Regard d’Autrui,” now published for the first time, posthumously, by Cold Turkey Press, was written in English. Why in English and why with a French title are unclear. What is clear, however, is that the tale shows him to have been a master storyteller as good as any of the celebrated writers who were beneficiaries of his masterly translations.

To quote Heathcote Williams, Cold Turkey’s “gem” is “an exquisite piece of book-making,” while the story itself is “immaculate and pricelessly outrageous Weissner.”

Told in first person, “Le Regard d’Autrui” sounds as though it is autobiographical. The casual voice is dryly funny and smart, the tone full of ironic asides, the language rich with clever slang, and the references — literary and wide-ranging — always apt. It’s the way Carl spoke. The tale begins like so:

The 9-hour ride from Marseilles was ass-chafing and uneventful as usual, except that near Montpelier the Italian Vespa developed a bad stutter, and I had to change the cylinder head and scrape off a layer of caked black soot. There was something wrong with the 2-stroke oil and gas mixture provided for scooters at French filling stations, and I could never quite figure out what it was. Once again I cursed myself for getting a cheap driver’s license good only for motorbikes and scooters. I had been in the army then, and a scooter, cheap enough and easy to handle, seemed to make sense. Only it didn’t. Hell, what was I doing anyway acting as a mule for a small-time Marseille hood, delivering stolen goods for the cheap thrill of consorting with colorful underworld characters plus the cigarette and gas money. What an idea for a raison d’être. Nor did the drab, parched landscape of the Herault do much to jolt me out of my morbid mood . . . dusty poplars, dusty vineyards, dusty houses, off-white and grey under a leaden sky. It hadn’t rained since early spring.

Further on, it continues:

Jean-Baptiste, gruff and taciturn, took possession of the delivery from Marseilles, got on his fishing boat and set off for Barcelona. He had a number of connections in the Barrio Chino dating back to the Spanish Civil War. I pictured him in a smoke-filled back room somewhere on Calle de los Desamparados with one of his veteran syndicalist comrades, one leg and part of the skull missing but a genius at unloading hot checks. That Jean-Baptiste, with his cunning higher aspirations, his eyes unbluffed and unreadable, his talent for always landing on his feet like a cat you throw out of an eighth-story window. What a character. When he’s good and drunk he will sometimes fall into a kind of post-existentialist chatter, with a menacing look from hooded eyes and his toothless old woman’s mouth incongruously set in a beatific smile . . . “Le silence a un auto dire que les mots.” Silence has a language different from that of words.

Indeed. And you are supposed to look at him in awe, completely slack-jawed and bewildered. At which point he may add with a mirthless chuckle: “I wonder what a fucking New Zealander might say about those Europeans with the highfalutin pensées …” He is full of arcane information, too, and it goes without saying that he can tell you precisely how Salvador Dali came to pick a spot in the big hall of the Perpignan train station as the center of the world: “He had a vision, Sal had, a religious experience no less, and the guys from the SNCR – stuffy Catholics all – ate it up and commissioned him to decorate that huge ceiling with a gorgeous example of religious kitsch – with Gala impersonating the Holy Ghost. So there. Res ipsa loquitor. Shit, how redundant can you get …”


Carl Weissner
[Photo: Michael Monfort]

Carl was an expert at making things up and bending facts to his purpose. So if you think for a minute that “Le Regard d’Autrui” is strictly autobiographical rather than a piece of fiction, you’d be wrong. Just have a look at his novels Death in Paris and The Braille Film, both also written in English, or his two novels in German, Manhattan Muffdiver and Die Abenteuer von Trashman. Still, the blend he came up with this time has a confessional quality I’d not seen before in his writing, something touching and personal even when it’s down-and-dirty. “Regard” turns out to be an elegaic memorial to an old lover from the narrator’s youth.

I slid down the wall next to the door, pulled up my knees, slung my arms around them and looked at her.

“On peut parler?”

“You like to talk across a room, don’t you,” she said with a slight edge to her voice. A light slur, too.

“You drink better stuff than the old man, but it fucks you up just as bad.”

“What a swell thing to say. Anyway, I wouldn’t be so sure. I may be a lush, but I’m still a beautiful lush.”

It was hard to disagree. In fact, she looked ravishing. She took a swig from the bottle and shuddered a little.

“I know it bothers you, but it’s a fact that I hold my liquor better than most.”

It was a preposterous statement. There was a possibility that she hadn’t started on a full bottle, but I couldn’t be sure. She brushed the hair out of her face and shot me one of her smoldering glances that never failed to make my knees waver. I was glad I was sitting down.

She took an enormous gulp, didn’t shudder this time, but seemed to sag. She turned her head to the wall. “How about leaving me alone,” she mumbled.

“I am.”

She raised her head, peered across the bare bed and nodded reflectively. “There’s that.”

She drew up her legs, rested her forearms on her knees, dangled the bottle between them and stared past it at the floor.

“Remember how I wrestled you to a climax that first night in Paris?”

I hesitated, not knowing what to make of this. What separated me from those days and nights seemed like a glacier which in a sort of speed-up effect had somehow managed to reach a length of 928 kilometers in just ten months.

“Yes,” I said. “At twenty below. With nothing but my sheepskin coat between us and the tile floor. Needless to say, I never felt safer from pneumonia in my life.”

“And the crazy things we used to say to each other?”

“All of them.”

“Prove it.”

“What? Are you serious?”

She made a sound that seemed to start as a hiccup and ended in a giggle.

“Yes. Come on, let’s have it.”

I fidgeted. I stretched my legs, pulled a pack of Gitanes from my shirt pocket, shook one out.

“Don’t smoke in my fucking bedroom,” she snapped.

Familiar ground. I knew the answer to that one. “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining.” I lit up, and we said it almost simultaneously: “Just kidding . . .”

“Quit stalling,” she said. “And don’t cheat.”

“All right . . . ‘Want me to sit on your face and asphyxiate you with my pussy?’ ‘Drown me, you mean.’ ‘Drown you? REALLY!’ . . . ‘N’oublies pas, je m’appelle Guele d’Amour. Make me gasp, make me moan, make me scream, make me delirious, make me come.’ . . . ‘If we do it standing up like this and I fuck you from behind and reach around and diddle your clit and with my left hand maul your tits and you wriggle your gorgeous ass but not too much or I’ll slip out, gee, this is getting complicated . . .'”

A soft chuckle. “Damn right.”

“‘You can come all over me and rub it between my tits’ . . . ‘I’ll lick a big dab of strawberry ice-cream from both your nipples if you’ll drive me crazy by licking lemon soda powder out of my ears’ . . .’In case you wake up first, just roll me over and do it to me’ . . . ‘Going down on you is like eating a sardine through a brillo pad’ . . .”

“I wanted to k.o. you for that, except I was laughing so hard.”

“‘T’es prète poufiasse?’ . . . ‘Kill me with your huge cock’ . . . ‘Doucement, document, plus fort, plus vif, plus profound’ . . . ‘You crazy muffdiver’ . . . ‘Fou l’camp, salope’ . . . ‘Will you slap my ass around a little when I’m coming?’ . . . ‘Demande tout ce que tu veux, je le ferai . . . Demain il sera trop tard’ . . . ‘I love the way your cunt is tightening around my cock and going wild’ . . . ‘Mec, j’vas t’donner une frottée avec mon mont de Venus’ . . .”

“Right. And did you thrash about.”

“‘What are you doing? You trying to shove it up my ass sideways?’ . . . ‘I want to give you a blowjob right here in the open . . . J’vas t’faire shooter dans ma gorge’ . . .”

“Oh? Where was that?”

“Rue de la Huchette, outside the Chat Qui Pêche. At four in the morning.”

“Really. I wonder what possessed me.”

“One-hundred percent pure innocent lust, I hope.”

“Did it ever occur to you that it might be a streak of pure insanity?’

“No.”

“Good.”

We fell silent. It was getting dark outside, and the crickets were sawing their one-note Samba out of the air. She seemed to have forgotten the bottle between her knees. which should have told me something, but didn’t.

There’s more to the story than these lengthy excerpts reveal, and I can’t help feeling that “Le Regard d’Autrui” although complete in itself as published, might have been part of a larger work — perhaps a bildungsroman — that Carl had in mind.

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Comments

  1. George Mattingly says

    Just got my copy of this book. Wonderful. A great reminder of Carl’s genius, great good humor, fine ear, and razor sharp talent as a prose-writer.

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