The Librocubicularist Society
I wasn’t one for joining clubs at school, but that year a club called the Librocubicularist Society had formed. It met in Mr. Megiddo’s class during lunch once a week, and I felt like I had to be part of it.
Its ostensible purpose was to be a once-a-week gathering place for the appreciation of strange words.
The club was started by this 12th Grader named Herman Q. Levine, a brilliant, fast-rapping Jewboy, part Groucho Marx, part Monty Python, who really used the club to free associate out loud.
Normally, school clubs, in order to be approved by Student Council, had to agree to a democratic process of electing officers. But somehow the Librocubicularist Society bypassed that requirement or else lied on the approval request form and then ignored it because the Librocubicularist Society was an absolute monarchy, with Herman being the King, naturally.
His Loyal Shyness King Herman, self-described son of Moses and Zipporah Levine, created his royal court from those among us, dubbed with such titles as the The Prince of Prolix Poetry, the Princess of Penis Envy, the Duke of Dime-Store Novels, the Earl of Existential Angst, The Suzerain of Saucy Sidekicks, the Kaiser of Keystone Kop Kapers, the Comtesse of Closet Dramas, the Grand Poobah of Pedantry, the Marquess of Movie Novelizations, the Queen of Saturnalian Roman Orgy Scenes, a title bestowed upon none other than Herman’s girlfriend Sheba Neville who looked just like Herman, and indeed they were kind of like the same person, the only differences between them being Sheba thinking Valentine’s Day was important and Herman thinking The Three Stooges were funny.
“You can either call us Sheba and Herman or Sheba and Her Man,” she loved to say to any new listener.
King Herman dubbed me the Baron of Pornography & Ribald Humor.
“Because therewith thou hast no peerage,” said his majesty as he tapped my shoulder with his scepter wrapped in purple and gold tinsel that he got at a Lakers game.
One of the rituals of the club was that whenever the name of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was uttered, everyone in the room was supposed to shout “Boo! Hiss!”
I liked Gerard Manley Hopkins. We’d read “Spring and Fall” in Beauregard’s class in 10th Grade and I dug the way he played with language and sound.
It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for
That poem got right to the gist of it.
Apparently the 12th Graders in Megiddo’s AP English class didn’t share the fondness.
Another one of Herman’s tropes was every time he’d shout, “Bad Mother!” we all had to shout back “Shut Your Mouth!”
Occasionally he’d respond, “Well I’m talkin’ ’bout Shaft,” but mostly he’d point at us and then try to dance like James Brown which is something white guys should just simply never try to do, because, sorry, but dang, dude.
Every meeting would begin with the official Librocubicularist Society chant:
Genuflect we’d all say and kneel and make the sign of the cross.
PRO–lix, PRO–lix, PRO–lix, PRO–lix was chanted while snapping fingers.
Snapping fingers continued:
Librocubicularist, Brobdingnag, Brobdingnag
Librocubicularist, Brobdingnag, Brobdingnag
Triskadecaphobia, Brobdingnag, Brobdingnag
Triskadecaphobia, Brobdingnag, Brobdingnag
And then making the motion of pushing someone out the window we’d grunt:
And back to snapping fingers:
Pro–LIX, Pro–LIX, Pro–LIX
Herman entered the room with his scepter but also wearing a paper crown from Burger King.
“Our featured word this week, latelies and gentlebens,” King Herman pronounced, “is smegma. I command my royal page to bring hither the holy Funk & Wagnall’s so that we, that is the Royal We, might look it up therein.”
Several people in the room were already going ew because they knew what smegma was.
I know I did. The unfortunate result of reading the dictionary for fun.
Jim Lord gave me a thumb’s up from across the room and mouthed the words ‘head cheese.’
Jim Lord always knew stuff like that too and knew I knew also. That was the basis of our early relationship. Word recognitions across the room.
The “royal page” was this intense scrawny dude named Clarence Hellsworth. I think he was a 10th Grader. The dictionary was actually a little too heavy for him, but he made it to Mr. Megiddo’s podium where King Herman located smegma and then said, “I deem it fitting that this week’s definition be recited to us by the very Baron of Pornography & Ribald Humor himself.”
He beckoned me with his scepter.
“Lance Atlas, Baron of Pornography & Ribald Humor, arise and come forward.”
“But I am circumcised, my liege,” I said bowing low, “I suffer not the genteel indignities of smegma.”
“We’ll forgive you your shortcomings in this instance and beseech you to grace us with your lofty wickedness, O worthy Hebrew. Title or no you are my subject and must obey my command, or off with the rest of your head, verstehst du noch?”
“I will oblige, m’lord,” I came forward.
The King pointed to smegma with his scepter.
“I feel like I’m at my bar mitzvah,” I said to much laughter due to the preponderance of Jews in the room, and then I read out loud in mock-heroic tones, “The secretion of a sebaceous gland; specifically the cheesy sebaceous matter that collects between the glans penis and the foreskin or around the clitoris and labia minora.”
“Gross!” shouted one of several girls I didn’t know.
I looked over at Claire to gauge the look on her face.
She didn’t make eye contact in that moment. She seemed to be humored though.
Claire and I would go to Librocubicularist Society meetings together and then we’d walk down the hall to Cinema class Period 5 after lunch.
I found myself opting to hang with Claire in a variety of interim situations lately, like between classes, Madame Couchée’s room at lunch, occasionally in the hall outside Megiddo’s room before school on the mornings she’d arrive early enough to sit and gab.
We had a beautiful little groove going.
I first knew something was up and funny with my feelings for Claire when Claude Moss asked her out and I felt all twinged about it.
I remember Whit and Manny giving him a hard time the day Claude and Claire were supposed to be going on their date.
We were at Claude’s house doing bong hits and listening to The Royal Scam.
“So where are you taking her?” Whit asked Claude.
“We’re gonna go see Logan’s Run at the Pan Pacific.”
“Dang, that’s still playing there.”
“Doesn’t Claire work at the Pan Pacific?” Manny asked.
“Yeah, that’s why we’re going. She can get us in for free. I’m going there when her shift ends.”
“Dang, dude, chicks like it when you spend money on them. And you’re taking her to a free movie at the place where she works? That’s dog, dude. You’ve gotta make it special,” Whit said, “or you’re not gonna get anything off her.”
“How far you think you’re gonna get?” Manny asked, “First base?”
“Buy me some penis and jack her crack,” Whit sang, “I won’t care till she’s down on her back. and it’s root root root . . .”
Claude laughed at that.
“I don’t know,” he said, “far as I can I guess. Definitely 1st base. Maybe 2nd?”
“Sacrifice bunt probably,” I said.
“Base on balls for sure,” Whit snickered.
“Intentionally walked,” Manny added, “Just don’t strike out looking, dude.”
Dorky guy giggles mingled and rumbled among us, the easily amused.
I was trying to stay upbeat despite my bumming over Claire going out with Claude.
I was surprised at how much it niggled at me.
Luckily (and also really weirdly) neither of them ever spoke about that one and only date they had. Not a single word about what happened.
A few days later Claire was blowing on my face during Mr. Megiddo’s class causing me to look over.
I was falling into her essence.
“So what do we take away from Moby-Dick other than it’s long and hard?” Mr. Megiddo asked us in class.
The class was silent after a brief laugh.
Mr. Megiddo sat in a student desk but facing us. He extended his long legs and crossed them at the ankles.
“Come on, tomorrow you’re going to be taking a test on it.”
“What’s the format of the test?” Gina Dichlich asked.
“There will be 4 I.D. questions–passages that you have to comment on in short-answer form–and one full-length essay on some aspect of the book.”
“Like what aspects should we be preparing for?” Arabella Mayflower asked from the back.
“The things we talked about in class would be a good place to focus.”
“Could you please be a little bit more vague, Mr. Megiddo?” Jim Lord asked to random laughter.
“You know very well what to study,” Mr. Megiddo said, “If you were paying attention in class you’ll be fine. But go over some things tonight. Talk to a classmate about it. Share ideas. But what do we take away from Moby-Dick? Come on.”
I raised my hand.
“Lance,” Mr. Megiddo pointed.
“It’s kind of like ‘Bartelby’ only just about everybody in Moby-Dick is all alone in the universe.”
“Especially Ishmael,” Mr. Megiddo said.
“When he’s floating on Queequeg’s coffin it’s like that image ‘a bit of wreck in the mid Atlantic’ in ‘Bartleby.,’” I said.
“That’s great,” Megiddo said, “Nice catch.”
“I like Lance’s idea that everybody’s alone,” Miranda said, “Ahab is the loneliest of all, I think.”
I looked at her and she was right there waiting for it. She tilted her head and glanced at me briefly.
“In a way there never is any real camaraderie among the crew,” Mr. Megiddo said.
“I was gonna say,” Miranda agreed, “Everything’s a secret on the Pequod.”
“Is this gonna be on the test?” Gina Dichlich asked.
“You bet. A new essay question is being born as we speak,” Mr. Megiddo said.
The class mumbled amongst themselves debating whether or not Megiddo was joking about the new essay question being born.
You never knew with Megiddo.
Sometimes he’d come into class and say, “OK, sheet of paper out, everything else off your desk, quiz on last night’s reading,” and when we’d complain that he said we weren’t going to have a reading quiz today, he’d answer, “Oh, did I say we weren’t going to have a reading quiz today? Well, I lied. Question #1 . . .”
With Megiddo, you were always wise to presume.
“What are we doing today?” Claude Moss asked because everyday somebody had to ask that stupid fucking question and that day it happened to be Claude.
“Walt Whitman,” said Megiddo.
“Whitman!” Whitman Rust said.
Mr. Megiddo smiled and handed out a sizable packet.
“These are excerpts from his poem ‘Song of Myself.’”
“This is all one poem?” Whitman Rust asked.
“Excerpts from one poem, yes.”
“Dang, dude,” Whit answered.
The day we did Whitman in Megiddo’s class was the last day Buzzy Lagniappe was in school for the rest of the semester. I stopped seeing him next door too for a while.
Megiddo read from the massive swath of excerpts, bringing it alive and making it immediate, as if Whitman were in the room with us, as only Megiddo could do, words on the page became ideas in the air.
I was enraptured by the dance of language as well as the transcendent imagery.
Walt Whitman was equally free wandering lonely hillsides and striding through the streets of Manhattan.
His ability to love everything seemed to me a revelation to be emulated.
My heart wanted to find that openness so that all the stars inside it might finally shine.
“Urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge of the world,” I said out loud as I exited school that afternoon, out the side gate via the cafeteria onto Genesee.
I felt the whole horny planet tilting in the same direction.
No matter the pretext, it’s always about fucking.