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Authors: John Rechy

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City of Night

BOOK: City of Night
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The Sexual Outlaw: A Documentary


The Fourth Angel


The Coming of the Night








           John Rechy






           Copyright © 1963 by John Rechy
Introduction copyright © 1984 by John Rechy

           All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or any facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

           The publisher wishes to express his thanks to the following sources for permission to quote extracts from copyrighted songs: “Children, Go Where I Send You,” special permission through arrangement with Unicorn Music Company, New York City; “Heartbreak Hotel,” written by Mae Axton, Tommy Durden, and Elvis Presley, copyright © 1956, Tree Publishing Company, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee; “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” copyright © MCMXXII by Shapiro, Bernstein and Co., Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10019, used by permission of the publisher.

Published simultaneously in Canada
Printed in the United States of America

           Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

           Rechy, John.

City of Night.I. Title. PS3568.E28C5     1984 813’.54     83-49451

           eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4725-8

           Grove Press

           an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

           841 Broadway

           New York, NY 10003



for My Mother
and the Memory
of My Father





 “The City is of Night: perchance of Death,
But certainly of Night....”


—James Thomson,
The City of Dreadful Night








City of Night
began as a letter to a friend in Evanston, Illinois. It was written in El Paso the day following my return to my hometown in Texas after an eternity in New Orleans. That “eternity”—a few weeks—ended on Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras. The letter began:

“Do you realize that a year ago in December I left New York and came to El Paso and went to Los Angeles and Pershing Square then went to San Diego and La Jolla in the sun and returned to Los Angeles and went to Laguna Beach to a bar on the sand and San Francisco and came back to Los Angeles and went back to the Orange Gate and returned to Los Angeles and Pershing Square and went to El Paso... and stopped in Phoenix one night and went back to Pershing Square and on to San Francisco again, and Monterey and the shadow of James Dean because of the movie, and Carmel where there’s a house like a bird, and back to Los Angeles and on to El Paso where I was born, then Dallas with Culture and Houston with A Million Population—and on to New Orleans where the world collapsed, and back, now, to El Paso grasping for God knows what?”      The letter went on to evoke crowded memories of that Mardi Gras season, a culmination of the years I had spent traveling back and forth across the country—carrying all my belongings in an army duffel bag; moving in and out of lives, sometimes glimpsed briefly but always felt intensely. In that Carnival city of old cemeteries and tolling church bells, I slept only when fatigue demanded, carried along by “bennies” and on dissonant waves of voices, music, sad and happy laughter. The sudden quiet of Ash Wednesday, the mourning of Lent, jarred me as if a shout to which I had become accustomed had been throttled. I was awakened by
a questioning silence I had to flee.

           I walked into the Delta Airlines office and told a pretty youngwoman there that I
to return to El Paso immediately. Though I had left money with my belongings scattered about the city in the several places where I had been “living,” I didn’t have enough with me for the fare, and a plane would depart within an hour or so. Out of her purse, the youngwoman gave me the money I lacked, and added more, for the cab. I thanked her and asked her name so I might return the money. “Miss Wingfield,” she said in a moment of poetry not included in this novel because it is too “unreal” for fiction.

           I thought I had ripped up the letter I had written about that Carnival season; I knew I had not mailed it. A week later I found it, crumpled. I rewrote it, trying to shape its disorder. I titled it “Mardi Gras” and sent it out as a short story to the literary quarterly
Evergreen Review.

           From childhood, I had wanted to be a writer. My mother was Mexican, a beloved, beautiful woman with truly green eyes and flawless fair skin; my father was Scottish, a confusing, passionate, angry man with blue eyes, which, in my memories, seem always about to shed tears. I learned Spanish first and spoke only it until I entered school. At the age of eight I began writing stories, all titled “Long Ago.” At about thirteen, I started a novel called
Time on Wings
—about the French Revolution, which I researched diligently. The great enlightenment that comes only in midteens led me to “deeper” subjects, and I began an autobiographical novel titled—oh, yes—
The Bitter Roots.
It was about a half-Mexican, half-Scottish boy, doubly exiled in many ways: by his “mixed” blood (especially significant in Texas), by his present poverty contrasted to his parents’ memories of wealth and gentility; he was “popular” only during school hours, after which he rushed home to secret poverty.

           At sixteen, my “works” included many poems, among them two “epics” about angels at war in Heaven, more than 500 pages of
Time on Wings,
about 200 pages of
The Bitter Roots,
both started in pencil, continued on a portable typewriter my father, in one of his many moods of kindness within anger, bought me. I abandoned both books and went on to finish a short, strange novel titled
Set in contemporary Mexico and the jungles of the Yucatán, it was framed about the Mayan legend of doomed love between the moon and the sun, who saw each other at the dawn of time. The main character in this “realistic fantasy”—in which animals talk, witches incite grave violence—is a youngman who tells the story of a “beautiful woman who died.”

           On scholarship given by the newspaper I worked for as copy-boy, I went to college in El Paso. After classes, I often climbed the nearby Cristo Rey Mountains, bordered by the Rio Grande, usually waterless here. I read a lot, eclectically; my favorite writers included Euripides, Faulkner, Poe, Margaret Mitchell, Lorca, Melville, Jeffers, Hawthorne, Camus, Milton, Ben Ames Williams, Dickens, Emily Brontë, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Donne, Gide, Henry Ballamann, Giraudoux, Pope, Djuna Barnes, Tennessee Williams, Proust, Joyce, Frank Yerby, Dos Passos, Thomas Wolfe, Capote, Mailer, James Jones, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Beckett, Farrell, Nabokov, Kathleen Winsor, Swift. I saw many, many movies.

           An English teacher offered to recommend me for a scholarship to Harvard, his school. But I went into the army. I didn’t tell anyone except my immediate family—and I burned most of what I had written, except for
I had been gone only a few weeks when my father died and I returned to El Paso.

           The rest of that time of my life in the army is as “unreal” as an attached memory, with the exception of “leave time” in Paris. I went in a private and came out a private. Released, I went to New York to enroll in Columbia University. Instead, I discovered the world of Times Square.

           My life assumed this pattern: I would invade the streets and live within their world eagerly; then I would flee, get a job, walk out of it—and return to the waiting streets like a repentant lover eager to make up, with added intensity, for lost moments. At the New School for Social Research, I began another novel, unfinished,
The Witch of El Paso,
about my dear great-aunt,
Ana, who had “deer eyes” and magical powers. Soon I extended my “streetworld” across the country.

           In El Paso, a letter arrived from Don Allen, one of the editors of
Evergreen Review,
in response to my story-letter, “Mardi Gras”; he admired it and indicated it was being strongly considered for publication. Was it, perhaps, a part of a novel? he asked.

           I had never intended to write about the world I had found first on Times Square. “Mardi Gras” for me remained a letter. But thinking this might assure publication of the story, I answered, oh, yes, indeed, it was part of a novel and “close to half finished”.

           By then, I was back in Los Angeles under the warm colorless sun over ubiquitous palmtrees. But the epiphany of questioning silence which had occurred in New Orleans made me experience the streetworld with a clarity the fierceness of the first journey had not allowed. I could “see”—face—its unique turbulence, unique beauty, and, yes, unique “ugliness.”

           “Mardi Gras” appeared in Issue No. 6 of the famous quarterly that was publishing Beckett, Sartre, Kerouac, Camus, Robbe-Grillet, Ionesco, Artaud. Don Allen wrote that he would be in Los Angeles on business and looked forward to seeing the finished part of my book.

           Instead, I showed him part of the setting of the novel I still had no intention of writing. I took this elegantly attired slender New York editor into one of the most “dangerous” bars of the time (“Ji-Ji’s” in this book). Pushers hovered outside like tattered paparazzi greeting the queens. Inside the bar, the toughest “male-hustlers” asserted tough poses among the men who sought them or the queens. Don Allen said he thought perhaps the bar was a bit too crowded. As we drove away, the police raided it.

           Later, Don—he became Don—would confess that he suspected there was no book. So he encouraged me to write other short pieces, which appeared in
Evergreen Review;
a lyrical evocation of El Paso and a Technicolor portrait of Los Angeles. Then Carey McWilliams, editor of
The Nation,
asked me to write for the magazine. For
Evergreen Review
The Texas Quarterly,
I translated into English short works by some young Mexican authors. The writing was yanking me from the streetworld, the “streets” pulled as powerfully. To connect both—and with sudden urgency—I wrote a story about Miss Destiny—a rebellious drag-queen who longed for “a fabulous wedding”—and about others in “our” world of bars, Pershing Square, streets. The story was very “literal”; I felt that to deliberately alter a “real” detail would violate the lives in that world. I sent the story to Don. He admired it a lot, but some in the growing staff of Grove Press, publishers of
Evergreen Review,
did not, and the story was turned down. That day, when I saw the people I had written about, Chuck the Cowboy, Skipper, Darling Dolly Dane, Miss Destiny, it seemed that not only my story but their lives and mine among them had been rejected: exiled exiles.

           Alone smoking grass on the roof of the building where I rented a room, I looked in the direction of Pershing Square just blocks away. Nearby church bells tolled their last for the night. Everything seemed frozen in darkness. As children, we had played a game called “statues”: Someone swung us round and round, released us unexpectedly, and we had to “freeze” in the position we fell (always—and this would assume importance for me later—adjusting for effect). Now the image occurred of a treacherous entrapping angel as the “spinner” in a life-game of “statues.” It was that imagery which was needed—and had been there behind the reality—to convey Miss Destiny’s crushed romanticism. I rewrote “The Fabulous Wedding of Miss Destiny,” imbuing it with a discovered “meaning.” I had begun my “ordering” of the chaotic reality I was experiencing and witnessing.

BOOK: City of Night
8.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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