It’s very hard to tell your mother where you’ve been when you’ve been a gate-crasher at a Greek-American picnic. I get home, where I’m living in a family of strictly meatloaf and red cabbage. Our idea of a real foreign dish was to buy a can of sauerkraut. That was foreign food. A really racy desert would be when my mother would put canned peaches in strawberry Jello.
A week goes by and I’m riding my bike and looking for action. Flick shows up on his bike and says, “Have you seen the signs down at the forest preserve?”
We ride like mad Friday morning to see what this week’s attraction is. Great big sign: AMERICAN LEGION PICNIC SATURDAY MORNING. THE EDWARD W. GUMPOCK POST 422.
Crack of dawn we’re in line with all the cars going in. By ten they’ve got this Dixie band blowing and people yelling and hollering like you’ve never seen unless you’ve been at an Indiana American Legion yearly picnic. It’s a sickening sight. Running around, they’ve got bags of water, squirting them at each other. They’ve got shock-sticks and they’re shocking people. They’re wearing hats that look like banana splits with badges all over.
In gigantic tubs they have millions of hotdogs—and giant steins of beer. Four thousand gallons of mustard. They’re handing out all kinds of stuff and we’re on line, me and Schwartz and Flick and Bruner. Free hotdogs, four bottles of pop and fifteen Eskimo pie bars. We get on the back end of the line and start through again.
The band is playing and yelling and hollering, and four trips into the food line later, I remember seeing Schwartz get off his bike and go under the table. I could hear him heaving for an hour. We get in line again. You don’t want to waste all this good stuff. This is some picnic. We go all the way to seven o’clock before we start to wind down. The band has marched away. They’d tapped all the kegs.
LOLITA, NABOKOV, & BUTTERFLIES
Lolita (1955), that farcical, crazy romance, never happened in that novel’s “real” life. Not to Humbert and not to Lolita. It all occurred in Humbert’s psychotic mind. I realized this the second time I read Nabokov’s book–after I’d read his Pale Fire, published in 1962. At that point I understood that Nabokov’s view of art and the artist is that the artist, because he/she creates an unreal world, is somewhat akin to an insane person. Charles Kinbote, the creator of Pale Fire’s bizarre, main story, is an obvious example. It’s clear that the bulk of the book is a phantasmagoric unreality in the mind of its “author.”
With Pale Fire’s mad protagonist in mind, I reread Lolita more carefully, curious as to whether this theme also propelled that book’s meaning. It does. The major part of the book is the Lolita and Humbert story in the form of Humbert’s “diary.” Lolita begins with a Foreword by a John Ray, Ph D., who describes Humbert Humbert as “demented,” having been in need of a “psychopathologist.” He writes that Lolita “will become, no doubt, a classic in psychiatric circles.”
Nabokov has perpetrated an artsy legerdemain. Regarding my references to very detailed dates in the book and in what way they prove my hypothesis: Nabokov was clever and meticulous as to details, and an enthusiastic trickster regarding literature’s highways and byways. And he did not state facts loosely or make mistakes.
In Lolita’s foreword, John Ray writes that Humbert Humbert died “in legal captivity” on November 16, 1952. Some 200 pages later, in the main story, Humbert, in his “diary,” claims to have begun his writing (the basic Lolita story) 56 days before, in a psychiatric ward. (I, and most people, seeing the various dates in the text, would simply skim over them as inconsequential details. But I, with simple mathematical addition and subtraction, being especially curious regarding Nabokov’s possible strategy in providing a basis for hidden significance, pursued the dates as clues. I found that, as Humbert had died on November 16, that would have put him beginning his diary on September 21, yet he describes his activities of killing Quilty, his nemesis, as happening several days after that—when he was already incarcerated.
In my letter, I described my interpretation to Nabokov (in care of his secretary, including my copy of Pale Fire for autographing), that as Humbert was already incarcerated before he claims to have begun his story about Lolita, his writing of this diary was a total fabrication of his demented mind. I received my copy of Pale Fire back un-autographed (she wrote me that Mr. Nabokov did not autograph his books), and with no response to my discovery regarding Lolita.
• • • • • • •
Vladimir Nabokov’s uncle, Konstantin Nabokov, appears in a mural in the main entrance of the American Museum of Natural History. Vladimir, in his autobiography, Speak, Memory, describes him and his goatee in that mural at the Portsmouth Treaty with Teddy Roosevelt. Vladimir, as a renowned butterfly collector and authority of the butterfly type now known as “Nabokov’s Blues,” sometimes visited the Museum.
At the Museum, in an entomologist’s office on some sort of design business, I happened to glance at some high cabinets–on top of one was an old cardboard box with a hand-lettered title, NABOKOV’S BUTTERFLIES.
Recreation of Title,
Altered by eb.
(Once in a while I enjoy
a bit of recreation.)