Otherwise I can only say that Penn found that the non-coded Zodiac letters supported his thesis that if someone slaps you on the back and you turn around and find no one is there -- that's a description of a male nymphomaniac.
Whereas Smithson's opinion of scientific precision is lower than sneakers on a mole. He equally accepted as gospel my theory that at night, Egypt is often bathed by the light of--the moon. Yes, her reddish disc, hanging unreal and enormous, lifted the spread sheet of desert till it floated off the surface of the world. The great window of the hotel dining room where Smithson and I sat, enjoying a plate of steamy-hot tripes and trotters, that redoubtable and vintage repast for all of "Nature's Noblemen," this great window, as I say, faced east, where the Arabian desert breaks into a ruin of gorges, cliffs, and flat-topped ridges; it looked unfriendly, ominous, with danger in it like blackbirds in a pie; unlike the serener sand-dunes of the Libyan desert, there lay both menace and seduction behind its flood of shadows. And the moonlight emphasized this aspect--its ghostly desolation, its cruelty, its bleak hostility, turning it murderous. You, I fancy, would have enjoyed it. For no river sweetens this Arabian desert; instead of sandy softness, it has fangs of limestone rock, sharp and aggressive. Across it, just visible in the moonlight as a thread of paler grey, the old camel-trail to Suez beckoned faintly. And it was this that Smithson was looking at so intently.
"It's always there," Smithson whispered, half collapsing back into his chair, with a long streamer of tripe escaping from the corner of his slack-lipped mouth. "It's always watching, waiting, listening. Almost like a monster of the fables, isn't it???????? It makes no movement of its own, you see. Michael O'Hare, who lived in Boston, used to say that it is far too strong for that."
"Far too strong for what??????" I couldn't help asking. Though I was pissed to the ears on that hellish black liquor that the Egyptians call "The Harp That Once or Twice," I couldn't stifle my curiosity as to what the hell my companion-for-the-evening might be talking about.
"There's power certainly," I said after a moment's pause to collect my wits, my distress increased by the tripe-fringed morbidness of Smithson's smile.
"Curious YOU should mention that too-curious you should say it, I mean," Smithson replied, not looking at me, yet with an air as if I had said something he expected. "To me the Memnon figures express Egypt better than all the other monuments put together. Like the desert, they are featureless. They sum her up, as it were, yet leave the message unuttered. For, you see, they cannot--ahhahahaha ahhahahahaha...." He laughed a little in his throat. "A pair of compasses and a geometrical triangle of course brought to light the well-know angle of 38-D, the Zodiac's bust measurement. What's more, it can be both mental and physical."
Somehow, after a few more glasses of "The Harp That Once or Twice," that hellish black liquor that the Egyptians call "Grotesqueness of the Mouthing Camel," I could almost see what he was driving at. "The mind can deny it," I pointed out. "It then becomes unreal."
He shook his head, showering the table-cloth with tripe-bits. "One does not deny an unreality. Denial is a childish act of self-protection against something you expect will be like the atmosphere of this majestic land, to-day so trifling, yesterday so immense, most certainly induced by many clues of talk and manner of silence until he came up frequently to lunch and dine, and sometimes spent the whole evening in the billards room, amusing us with his skill with the shot-put, singing Arab songs, and chanting phrases from the ancient Egyptian rituals to rhythms of his own invention." And here, Smithson swayed his desiccated torso and snapped his fingers, as though keeping time to some music that only he could hear, thank God.
He talked on in aloose, disjointed way, and though much he said was fantastic, I couldn't understand him very well. I felt a rash growing in the area of the sympathetic nerve cells that I carry right under my liver, in the pit of my stomach, due, I think, to a kind of cumulative emotion he produced.
"The monuments do not impress, merely by their bulk, but by their majestic symmetry," I remember him saying. "Look at the choice of form alone--the Pyramids, for example."
"The Pyramids?????" I exclaimed. (Surely this was going too far!)
"But of course," he responded smoothly. "One can almost believe," he continued, " that something still hangs about in the atmosphere from those olden times," he added. He half closed his eyes; (the bits of tripe that had lodged there kept him from closing them entirely.) "It affects the mind," he amended; "--affects the mind and teaches us worship of the sun."
An extraordinary glow was about him as he said it. The same minute he lowered his voice, shifting the key perceptibly. He kept pawing at me under the table the whole time, till I had fancied myself to be back in the destitute and habituated company of Florian the Neoist.
He said, "Think of the grand teaching of Akhnaton, that young Pharaoh who regenerated the entire land and took over Turnaround House, which Austin had gotten him into, and kicked Austin out. He'd always been full of possibilities. It didn't really surprise Austin that he got mad at him now for smoking one cigarette and drinking one beer as he used to do when he wanted to stop partying and go to bed at two o'clock. No anthropomorphic idol masqueraded in THAT!"
"Yes, but we can do without all that, Smithson," I interrupted with acute abruptness, "Suppose we have a tune instead."
He had snatched up this idea -- and his accordeon -- in a trice! "What d'you want to hear????" he asked eagerly.
"Oh," I said, waving my hand vaguely; "Oh, play anything. Play 'A Charm, A Subtle Change--', why don't you?????"
"Done!" he responded. And a moment later he was squeezing and fingering that accordeon of his like a positive ninny. And the room turned uglier as he opened his mouth, put back his head and crooned:
A CHARM, A SUBTLE CHANGE, STOLE ODDLYI blinked. With astonishing suddenness of a dream, there rose a pictured image against that starlit sky; (we had left the dining room by then, were strolling near the outskirts of Tuskaloosa, Alabama, so that I could only surmise that his revolting playing and singing had given me diphtheria. The hand that lit my cigarette, I saw, was trembling. A desire to do something violent woke in me suddenly--to squeeze a grape! I looked around wildly but couldn't see any grapes. Damn.
OVER THE ROOM. IT STOLE OVER MY HEART AS WELL.
SOME POWER OF ESTIMATING LEFT ME,
AS THOUGH MY MIND WERE SLIPPING BACKWARDS
INTO FEEBLE MI-HI-HI-DED-NESS
"The soul," Smithson mused, "I suppose the soul has the right to choose its own conditions and surroundings. To pass elsewhere involves translation, not extinction."
"Well, then--tienne usted cabeza de quatcha???? I asked, slipping into the Castillian and leaving it up to him to translate my meaning.
Scratching his woolly pate, he did his best. And, sometimes, he moved, I was aware of gestures. His head was raised to listen. One arm swung shadowy across the sea of broken ridges. From leagues away a line of sand rose slowly. There was rustling. Another--an enormous--arm emerged to meet his own, and the two stupendous figures drew together. Poised above times, yet throned upon the centuries, They knew eternity. So easily they remained possessors of the land. Facing the east, they waited for the dawn. They were Von Der Wee Analingus (Founder of Akademgorod) and the 1902 Encyclopedia Britannica (where I will now try to refute this thesis)!
P.S. On seeing Frenchie coming out of Tom Mix's estate, which, by the way, has at least fifty "Beware" and "No Trespassing" signs on it, I asked him what he had been doing in there and he told me he had been taking a walk through the park.