Three Presents


IT IS CHRISTMAS EVE in 1980 and I can feel the vibration of our carriage’s wheels as the train speeds through the night towards Princeton.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and there are four of us in the dark green Isuzu gazing out through globular suburban lights for a fancy address.

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and my co-worker and I are lowering a cast-iron gate over the twinkling chorus lights of the bookstore window.

It is Christmas eve in 1980 and the warm air pumping in is mingling with the rasping engine hum, threatening to put me to sleep.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and it’s me, Dave, Danny, and a guy named Gary who seems to have come straight from central casting, the wise-cracking male lead with a waxed shock of yellow hair, all walking up the driveway.

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and it’s been raining. Now the avenue is a kind of ice-field and we’re both loaded down with presents, looking for cabs.

It is Christmas eve in 1980 and my mother reaches into her bag and hands me a premature present to keep me awake. Tearing away the paper in a practiced, athletic blur, I can see it’s a Star Wars figure. Boba Fett.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and the party is at a girl named Leah’s house. She’s a friend of Danny’s from RISD and her family throws one of those famous full-tilt, yule-log-and-eggnog-type parties every year. Gary has never met Leah, never seen her face, but already has a thing for her. An inclination to possess.

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and I can feel the void waiting for me. My co-worker asks for a hug, and as I lean in I want to tell her about my patchwork book due out in a few months, about the things that happen in my daydreams, the oncome of thoughts that all resolve in death. Even though she is a collagist herself, even though we were briefly lovers, I am afraid.

It is Christmas eve in 1980 and my mother’s cousin Richard Rorty picks us up at the train station in Princeton. I wave my Boba Fett with his steak-and-pepper colors at the philosopher and he smiles, taking the plastic bounty hunter from me and examining him with sleek brown eyes.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and I’m having a back-porch conversation with a semiotics major from Brown about Bricolage, Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind and all that. There are neat rows of gray stars above us that are just stars and don’t represent anything. Same goes for the cold gusts of wind around us that feel as though they could be bursts of emotion. I’ve had too much gin to gauge whether the man from Brown is making fun of me.

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and I’m in my childhood bedroom dreaming of an illicit cigarette when I find an ancient copy of Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. There’s a recent clipping from the New York Times inserted up front that says Dick wants everyone to stop using the wold “Postmodernism.” That no one has “the foggiest idea” what it is, and that “It isn’t exactly an idea; it’s a word that pretends to stand for an idea.”

It is Christmas eve in 1980 and Dick’s wife Mary is tucking me into a lumpy wool blanket. I can hear his children, Kevin and Patricia, breathing heavily somewhere in the dark.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and the party is just winding down when Leah’s father finds me digging around the kitchen for more gin. “Hey Scavenger,” he yells, his white hide flashing, “get lost!”

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and I am lying in my childhood bed when I realize I am in love with my co-worker, and shiver with a memory of that odd party fourteen years earlier, talking with a stranger about signals and symbols under the night sky as the wind twanged in through the backyard trees, speaking its own language certainly, but no more real or true than Leah’s father’s when he calls me Scavenger.

It is Christmas eve in 1980 and sleep begins to swallow me up. I place Boba Fett under my pillow so no one can take my possession from me in the night. In my dreams I am sent transmissions from the future full of aimless desire, a palimpsest-like flood of uncertain wanting.

It is Christmas eve in 1996 and we are getting kicked out of the party. At first I think it’s my fault, but it turns out Gary has been in a fist-fight with Leah’s boyfriend. We are driving drunk down some postmodern highway with fluorescent tentacles whipping out at us in the cold wind and Gary is telling us, “Now she has to like me! Her parents kicked me out! Now I’m like… the rebel. Girls love rebels!”

It is Christmas eve in 2010 and sleep is beginning to swallow me up as I put Dick’s book down next to the pillow and listen to the wind whip through the dark backyard trees. I am ten months away from disgrace, but will still spend every night wondering what Dick would think had he been alive when the sunlight of discovery came with sudden violence. Would he have called me Scavenger, Bricoleur, thief? Or, in a dream of Christmas morning, like some foggy transmission from the past, would he perhaps have warned me that the rebel doesn’t always get the girl in the end?




About Quentin Rowan

Quentin Rowan was born in New York City in 1976. He began publishing his poems as a teenager, and in 1996 one was chosen for inclusion in The Best American Poetry series by Adrienne Rich. Shortly thereafter, he began plagiarizing from a wide variety of writers and sources, and continued to do so for fifteen years until he was caught. His memoir about the experience, Never Say Goodbye, was published this fall by Yeti Publishing.
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