Saturday, July 18, 2009

An excerpt from the recently discovered diaries of Walker Linchuk, the founder of Nasalism.

This is a true story. Despite the fact that CRUST almost certainly began with it, it never found its way into the book. Indeed, for reasons that will be obvious, I’ve rarely spoken of it with anyone.

Perhaps it was because learning to drive is a sort of initiation into adulthood and autonomy, or perhaps it had something to do with the hypnotic power of locomotion and independent mobility, but nothing liberated my nosepicking habit like getting my driver’s license. To sit behind the wheel of a car was to enter that state of deep solitude and indifference to public opinion that translates as absolute permission. At the same time (like many other drivers, I think, perhaps because of something as simple and obvious as the circulation of air in a moving automobile), I found my nose both extremely sensitive and given to great quantities of secretion, in other words, the collaboration which, as anyone with this addictive habit will tell you, greatly enhances the possibility of large, irritating crusts which so insist on extraction that the brain is emptied of any other consideration and ultimately, since concentration and happiness are neurologically indistinguishable, liberated from the neurons in which discriminatr between irritation and euphoria. Needless to say, long drives and especially road trips, encouraging as they do a tendency to lose oneself in thought while engaged in the automatic behavior that permits both experienced drivers and nosepickers to exercise their skills unconsciously, put me especially in this wondrous state of body and mind.

One day, after a six hour journey, I found myself, while approaching a light at a four-cornered intersection on the upper East Side of New York City, so deeply descended into this condition that, even as my left forefinger – while my right hand steered the car -- explored it, I’d barely noticed the arrival, a few blocks back, of an elusive crust in my left nostril. I don’t know why but great crusts always seem to arrive unannounced. Furthermore, as I now discovered, they often, like this one, seem to be so devoid of adhesion that there is not and indeed will never be any possibility of extraction. In this case, however, my initial fear proved unjustified. Just as the light turned yellow, causing me to slow and brake, I found adhesion with my forefinger. Not mastery, by any means, but a window on intransigence that made me feel a surge of hope and -- how else to say it? -- self-confidence. As the car came to a stop, I pushed higher in my nostril, turning my finger left and right in search of leverage. In my rear-view mirror, I saw a car pull up behind me and, from the corner of my eye, another on my left. Every instant, my chances seemed to improve. More than confidence, I had begun to feel the kind of singleminded positive conviction and determination I rarely knew outside the drama and suspense in which I was now engaged. How can we know the true value of optimism until we see it emerge from the depths of pessimism? For a few seconds, it seemed as if I were absolutely poised between victory and defeat, but all at once, at the peak of my nostril, I felt the wondrous twinge of separation and relief which is the ultimate goal of this sort of mission, especially when it happens in a car, at the end of a road trip, at a stoplight, when cars all around you are filled with people who, as far as you know, are no less oblivious than you are.

It was just as I withdrew, catching sight of the liquid, voluminous crust dangling from my forefinger, that I heard my name called. Turning, I saw Melissa Hodge in the passenger window of the car on my left. Melissa! My first French kiss, my first bare breast, my first dry hump and, alas, since I’d just, at 16, earned my driver’s license, and most of our relationship happened in my parents’ car, my first witness – outside family members, who practiced it no less than I did -- to my nosepicking habit.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, sorry.”

“C’mon, stop it. It’s disgusting.”

She was lean and beautiful, with small breasts and short, dark hair, dark, serious and unflinching eyes and a mouth so mobile that it seemed to follow every movement of her mind. The sight of her alone could give me an erection. Daughter of a psychologist, she was anything but reticent on the subject of my habit. Even if she hadn’t -- as she did, more often than I like to remember -- seen me indulge again, she was interested in my “problem”. How often, really, did I do it? Was this what Daddy meant when he talked about obsessive-compulsive disorder? If so, future psychologist herself, she wanted to help me with it. Was it not a kind of masturbation? “A sort of symptom, I don’t mean to be critical, of what Dad calls narcissism?” Certainly, she said one night, after talking about it with her mother, a Yoga teacher, and after a kiss, in the front seat, that lasted almost ten minutes, it indicated an “alienation” from my body which was “regressive” and – no surprise for boy of my age but close to retardation from the sound of her voice – “immature.”

Throughout my junior and senior years of highschool, Melissa and I lived in the front seat of the car. On the street in front of her house, we twisted back and forth to avoid the steering wheel, necked and groped and, by every trick of digital manipulation, brought each other to orgasm. She liked to unzip my pants and hold my penis but she did not want – wasn’t ready, she said -- to look at it. Very often, even if I’d ejaculated, I had a stomach ache after we said goodnight. How could I be surprised, embarrassed or ashamed that, as I drove home from such encounters, I turned to my nose for consolation?

I can’t say it was my habit that broke us up but in at least two of the long letters she wrote after confessing to me that – at a tennis camp in Connecticut -- she’d “met someone else,” she mentioned my “immaturity.” It was five years since we’d seen each other, two years since, in a sweet note, she’d told me of her engagement to her tennis camp boyfriend, a future orthopedic surgeon, soon to undertake his residency at a hospital in Philadelphia. I assumed it was the surgeon, now (I assumed) her husband, who sat to her left, in the driver’s seat of her car. We were almost exactly an arm’s length apart. Needless to say, the sight of her evoked great waves of emotion in me. Framed by the window, she looked older of course but if anything more beautiful. I saw her lips curl and spread as her mouth processed the sight of me. Only an instant passed before our arms, as if magnetized by affection and nostalgia, reached from our respective windows and our hands squeezed and gripped and intertwined until they formed a single fist together.




“How are you?”

“Great! How are you!”


So much to say but alas, as we were now informed by the honking cars behind us, the light had changed.

“See you!” she cried as the driver of her car turned left.

“Yeah!” I replied, turning right.

Driving with my right hand, left elbow on the window, I was nearly a block away before I thought to check my hand. My hard-earned crust was not to be seen. Thus did Melissa Hodge, a few blocks away, discover, on her right hand, concrete proof that my symptoms persisted. Thus did I learn to keep both hands on the wheel. I never saw her again.