I Remember

Reviewed by Paul Pescador
Joe Brainard- I remember - Book cover
I read details of Brainard’s early sexual experience at MoMA. I’m standing on the train and he moves one seat over so that I can sit down.
My shoes are untied as I walk and each time I re-tie them, the other one loosens, soon both are untied, flopping down the street.
I read, “I remember thinking I was a great artist.” My heart breaks.
“I remember that I was serious then and I am still serious now.” He talks about the flavor of ice cream, the awkwardness of wet dreams and getting an erection at a public pool. I’m wearing a tangerine orange colored shirt today and I get stopped by a woman who doesn’t speak English and wants directions to the train. I clumsily explain.
I walk by Swedish tourists, who stand in front of the Disney Center blocking the sidewalk as they collectively take photos of the building from across the street. I swerve through them. Everyday always a different group tourists. On my way home, I pass by the Disney Center again and it’s filled with commercial photographers holding monopods, photographing young, engaged couples. They always hold the same poses for the camera, each creating the same moment.
Reading one stanza to the next, almost a continuous thought or theme, perhaps a tangent, but still connected somehow though the juxtaposition of content even though this thought is much more serious than one before. The awareness that he pooped his pants as a kid and was taken to the women’s bathroom by his mom. It’s confessional. “As a child feeling bad for thinking black person are ugly.” Why is Brainard telling me this?
His actions feel present as I read them, though recalling the past always feels melancholic. I shift between tense, fixating on the recreation of the memory, words become textures.
I stare at this man in his late 20s, we are both on the train. I think we make eye contact, but I only see the side of his face. I lean forward to see him closer, but the train twists and I fall backward against a wall or trip and fall to the floor. I don’t remember which, I just remember the next day my arms were sore.
Each sentence begins the same way as the last one. “I remember” I re-read a page that I just finished and a sentence pops out I didn’t catch the first time.
The language is direct. It speaks of his as well everyone’s experience. A short book less than 140 pages, I could start at any point and read for as long as I want, but each time I read it, I always begin at the beginning and read to the end.
Rushing to get tea, I’m late to work, but need caffeine and then drink lots of iced tea, get super caffeinated alone in my office, and crash before my boss gets there.
I watch Matt Wolf’s short documentary on Brainard. I look at my notes after:
He was quiet as a kid and lived in Tulsa.
Moves to the big city.
Gives up painting and becomes a writer.
Pressure. Too much pressure from making.
It feels so All-American.
Listening to him read with his thick east coast accent.
Back on the train and on my cellphone talking about him, not thinking that everyone else can hear me, even though I can hear every word the person next to me is saying. Drinking a strawberry smoothie from the juiceria. I try the pineapple, but it’s too sweet.
He fawns for men. He loves Ted Berrigan.
He sits around, drinks and smokes cigarettes.
He shifts from the personal and then to the queer. I connect. Not because I myself have had that experience, but know the anxiety that surrounds it, that rejection, that questioning of everything around me. Do other queers understand as well or is this just nostalgia for an experience I never had?
On the train a man wears a bright blue suit. The blue suit extends to his button down shirt and his blue cowboy boots, I smile at him and then get off my stop.
Joe Brainard, I Remember. Granary Books, 2001.