My nightmares, when I have them, are of unemployment, empty time and the endless, endless suburbs. Miles from anywhere, unable to drive, rent and house prices wildly high, there's no room for life. How can you live? What will you live on? No chance. You've got no chance.
A new category: Saints, short for saints of the everyday. Those who never moved out of the family home, who got lost in their own rooms and never left them again. Lost - in inner space. Lost in the ruin of the life they might have had: what horror! What glory, too - and I imagine a Genet whose prison is the suburbs, and whose heroes (heroines) worthy of beatification are the ones who hide themselves amid the other men and women. Shakespeare was like every other man and woman, says Borges, except that he was like every man and woman. So too with the Saint (the everyday Saint), who is like what we are, or rather what we are when we are not quite ourselves.
The first saint: Charles Crumb, of Zwigoff's great documentary. He never moved out. In the end, he barely left his room. He read; piles of books everywhere. He hadn't read Hegel and Kant, he says in the film, but he might do. Meanwhile he's rereading books he read twenty years ago. He is around fifty years old; he has a year before his suicide. Gentle and withdrawn, bullies tormented him at school. Hutch - that was the name of one of them. That was his name. Hutch and his cronies. Hutch would beat him in the school hall until he fell to the ground. There he was, Hutch, the cronies and everyone looking at him on the ground.
And when he got home, Charles had his father to contend with. A big, bullying man, who thought his sons failures. Hadn't he written a book on managing people: How to Manage People, with his strong American mug on the inside cover. How to Manage People - and here he is with three worthless sons. Charles goes out to work. How long does he last? A few years. He never moves out of home. His father dies. Charles leaves his job. He lives with his mother, whom he calls 'mother'. Sometimes his famous brother visits - once or so a year. He loses his teeth, and never wears his false set. What would be the use of that? He never goes out. He doesn't see anyone. Why should he wear his false teeth? He wasn't even going to be in the film, for godssakes.
On screen, he chews a toothpick. He's sardonic. He's wry. But crumpled somehow. Withdrawn - and into himself, and so far he's not there anymore. Withdrawn - having found some vast dimension of inner space, greater than the world, where he is lost. His face has crumbled. He's chubby. His speech is marked with a lisp because he doesn't wear his dentures. He laughs, but it is a sardonic laugh. Who is laughing, and at whom? There's no one there. No one left.
Years have passed. He's fifty - how did that happen? Fifty, and surrounded by piles and piles of books. When he was young, Robert Crumb remembers, it was his brother who got him into comics, into drawing. And it is brother whose approval he still wants somewhere when he finishes a strip. His brother! Charles gave up writing and drawing years ago. We see his last illustrations, where the speech bubbles become fuller and fuller. Soon he no longer illustrates his strips at all. Writing, just that, very neat, all in a line, covering the notebook. Lines and lines. And then the writing turns into marks, just marks, saying nothing, only looking like writing. For pages and pages. He's compelled. Pages and pages and whole notebooks. Charles, what happened to you? What went wrong? What were you looking for across all the pages and the books?
He's been on anti-depressants and tranquilisers for twenty years. But he'd given up writing and drawing long before that. Charles is calm now, much calmer than before. It's age, he thinks. When he was young, all he thought about was sex. Sex and comics, and drawing, and writing. And now? Fifty, he has no sexual desire any more. Probably a good thing. Fifty and surrounded by books, which he plans to reread. What else is there to do? He kills himself a year after the onscreen interviews. The film isn't out yet. Charles hasn't been discovered as an outsider artist. Would it have mattered for him? Would it have made any difference? Maybe everything was too late for Charles. Maybe he was beyond anything that could happen.
He is a saint. Solitude - but a solitude that has turned him aside (there's no one there to be solitary) - burns in his place. His mother calls up to him. 'Charles, are you okay up there?' He reassures her. He's okay. Soon the filmcrew will leave him back in his room on his own. His room - is it his room? Who inhabits it? Who's there? Kant and Hegel, he'd like to read them. He hasn't yet, though he's read a lot. Books in piles around him. He read them all twenty years ago and now it's time to read them again. What else has he to do?
Robert Crumb remembers how Charles told him he was in love with the boy from the film of Long John Silver. The boy! Robert wonders. How hard it must have been for Charles! In love with this boy, drawing him over and over again. Was that why he wrote and drew? Was it the boy for whom he was looking, by way of writing and drawing? Writing, drawing were a kind of ceremony. He was conjuring someone up: a boy, the boy from the film. He loved him, the boy. It must have been hard for Charles, muses his brother. He never had sex. The girls at school weren't interested in him, says Robert, or in Charles. They were interested in Hutch, though. Hutch and his cronies - all the mean, big boys. But Charles was more gentle, Robert muses.
You get the sense Robert is speaking of himself, too. He was too gentle. But it is Charles who is the Saint, not Robert. Charles, who has his own small page on Wikipedia. Someone should send me Charles' notebooks, I think to myself, because only I would want them. Someone should send me what only I deserve, I think to myself. From one afternoon to another, I think to myself. From his afternoon, Charles', thirty years ago (he gave up drawing and writing thirty years ago now) to mine, where I write (I do not draw, though I would to illustrate every post in my new category, Saints), or I try to write (lately it's been hard - no time, no time ...). But this is the effect Charles has on you: he makes you think he's singled you out. That something special in you has been called forward by Charles. Only I understand, I think to myself. Only I can really understand.