Anything Goes


Larry! . . . Larry! . . . Larry Gorman is approaching our position . . . he's surrounded by his people . . . the ring is mobbed . . . LARRY! . . . it's not easy for the champion to make his way through . . . there's Mondini, his coach . . . a lightning-fast win tonight, here at the Sony Sports Club, let's recap, just 2 minutes 27 seconds is all . . . LARRY, here, Larry, we're on the air, live on radio . . . Larry . . . we're on the air, so, fast work . . ."

"Is this microphone working?"

"Yes, we're on the air."

"Nice microphone, where'd you buy it?"

"I don't buy them, Larry . . . listen . . . did you think it would be over so quickly or . . ."

"My sister would like that a lot . . . "

"I mean . . . "

"No, seriously. You know, she imitates Marilyn Monroe, she sings and she's the spitting image of Marilyn, the same voice, I swear, only she doesn't have a microphone . . . "

"Listen, Larry . . . "

"Usually she manages with a banana."

"Larry, you want to say something about your opponent?"

"Yes. I want to say something."

"Go ahead."

"I want to say something about my opponent. My opponent is called Larry Gorman. Why do they keep on setting me up with those zeroes wearing gloves and no clothes? They're always under my feet. So eventually I have to knock them down."


It was Shatzy's voice. It came from outside the door. The bathroom door.

"I'm coming, I'm coming."

Music of flushing. Tap on. Tap off. Pause. Door opens.

"They've been waiting half an hour for you."

"I'm coming."

Some people from the local TV station had come to Gould's house. They wanted to do a feature for the Friday evening special. Title: Portrait of a Child Genius. They had set up the camera in the living room. What they had in mind was a half-hour interview. They counted on working up a sad story of a boy condemned by his intelligence to solitude and success. Its brilliance lay in their having found someone whose life was a tragedy not because he was terribly unfortunate but, on the contrary, because he was terribly fortunate. If it wasn't exactly brilliant at least it seemed like a good idea.

Gould sat on the sofa, in front of the camera. Poomerang was beside him, also sitting. Diesel didn't fit on the sofa, so he sat on the floor, although it took him a while to get there. And then it wasn't clear how he would ever get up. Anyway. They arranged the microphones and turned on the spots. The interviewer smoothed her skirt over her crossed legs.

"Everything all right, Gould?" she said.


"Let's just test the microphone."


"Would you like to say something into it, any old thing?"

"No, I don't want to say anything into this microphone, I wouldn't do it even if you paid me a gazillion . . . "

"All right, everything's set, OK, let's start. Are you ready?"


"Look at me, OK? Forget the camera."

"All right."

"Let's begin."


"Mr. Gould . . . or can I call you simply Gould?"

" . . . "

"Let's just say Gould, then. Listen, Gould, when did you realize that you weren't an ordinary kid-I mean, that you were a genius?"

POOMERANG (not saying): It depends. You, for example, when did you realize that you were an idiot? Did it happen all at once, or did you discover it little by little, first when you compared your grades with your friends' grades, then when you noticed at parties that no one wanted to be on your team for "Name That Film"?



"I was wondering . . . if you remember, from when you were little, an incident, something, when you suddenly felt different from others, different from the other children . . . "

DIESEL: Yes, I remember very well. See, I used to go to the park, with the others, all the neighborhood kids . . . there were swings, a slide, all those things . . . It was a nice park, and we went there in the afternoon if it was sunny. Well, I didn't know then that I was . . . different, let's say, in other words, that I was already big but . . . a child can't tell if he's different or something . . . I was the biggest, that's all, and one day I climbed the steps of the slide, for the first time, you weren't allowed on it if you were too young, but no one saw me-besides, no one even knew exactly how old I was-so I climbed the steps, and what happened is that when I got to the top I sat down on the slide and it was a disaster, I didn't fit, my bottom didn't fit in the slide, you know? I tried as hard as I could, but that bastard of a bottom wouldn't get in . . . It was silly but there was nothing to do, my bottom didn't fit in the slide. So finally I had to go back. I got down from the slide, but by the steps. Do you know what it means to go down a slide on the steps? Have you ever tried it? with everyone looking at you? have you ever felt that sensation? Maybe you've felt it, right? There are plenty of people around, who get off a slide by going down the steps. Have you noticed? There are plenty of people for whom it went wrong, that's the truth.



"Everything OK?"


"OK, OK. So, listen . . . would you tell us about your friendships with other boys. Do you have friends? Do you play any games, sports, anything like that?"

POOMERANG (not saying): I like to go underwater. It's different down there. There's no noise, you can't make a sound, even if you want to you can't do it, there's no noise there. You move slowly, you can't make sudden movements, I mean fast movements, you have to go slowly, everyone is compelled to go slowly. You can't hurt yourself, people can't give you stupid slaps on the back or things like that, it's a great place. And especially it's the ideal place for talking, you know? What I really like is to talk down there, it's ideal, you can talk and . . . you can talk, well, everyone can talk, anyone, if he wants to, can talk, it's fantastic how people talk down there. Only, it's too bad that there's never . . . there's almost never anyone there, that's the real drawback, that there's no one down there, apart from you, I mean, it would be a fantastic place, but there's almost never anyone there to talk to, mostly you can't find anyone. It's too bad, don't you think?

"Would you like to have a break, Gould? We can stop and start again when you want."

"No, this is fine, thank you."

"You're sure?"


"Is there something you'd like to talk about?"

"No, I'd rather you asked me questions, it's easier."



"OK . . . now . . . "

" . . . "

"Well . . . the fact that you're . . . special, if I can put it that way . . . special . . . I mean, you get along with other kids? It's OK?"

DIESEL: You know something? It's their problem. I've thought about this a lot, and I understand that things are like that, and it's their problem. I have no problem being with them, I can take them by the hand, talk to them, play with them, I-I'm not the one who always remembers I'm like that-I forget about it, they're the ones who never forget. Never. Sometimes you can see that maybe they'd like to play with me, too, but it's as if they were somehow afraid of hurting themselves, or something like that. They don't know how to take it the right way. Instead, they get a lot of stuff in their heads, about what I can do and can't do, who knows what they imagine, they're always thinking of ways to annoy me, to insult me, or make me mad, so everything's ruined. They don't have to be that way. No one has explained to them that people who are a little special, as you put it, really are normal, they have the same desires as other people, the same fears, it's not any different-you can be special in one thing and normal in all the rest-someone should explain it to them. It becomes too complicated, and so in the end they get tired, and then they forget about it. You can understand it, if they stay away-you're a problem for them, you see? A problem. No one goes to the movies with a problem, believe me. I mean: if you have even just an apology for a friend to go to the movies with, you wouldn't dream of going with a problem. You wouldn't dream of going with me. That's how it is.

"Would you prefer to talk about your family, Gould?"

"If you like."

"Tell me about your father."

"What do you want to know?"

"I don't know . . . do you like being with your father?"

"Yes. He works for the Army."

"Are you proud of him?"


"Yes, I mean, are you . . . proud . . . proud of him?"

" . . . "

"And your mother?"

" . . . "

"Would you like to tell us about your mother?"

" . . . "

" . . . "

" . . . "

"Would you prefer to talk about school? Do you like being what you are?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you're famous, people know you, your schoolmates, your professors, they all know who you are. Is it something that you enjoy?"

POOMERANG (not saying): Listen, I'll tell you a story. One day someone comes to my neighborhood, someone from somewhere else, runs into me in the street and stops me. He wanted to know if I knew Poomerang. If I knew where he could find him. I didn't say anything, so he started explaining to me, he told me he's a guy with no hair, about your height, and he never speaks, you must know him, don't you?, the one who never speaks, everyone knows him. I didn't say anything. He began to get mad: come on, he said, he's even been in the newspapers, he's the one who unloaded a truckful of shit in front of CRB, because of that business with Mami Jane. Come on, he always wears black, everyone knows him, he usually goes around with a friend of his, a kind of giant. He knew everything. He was looking for Poomerang. And I was right there. In black. Not speaking. Finally he got mad. He was yelling that if I didn't want to talk to him I could go to hell, what kind of manners are these, you can't even ask someone some-thing, what sort of world is this. He was yelling. And I was right there. Do you understand? Do you see how stupid it is to ask me if I like it or not? Hey, I'm talking to you, do you understand me?

"Don't you feel like talking, Gould?"


"We can stop, if you like."

"No, no, I think it's going very well."

"Well, it's not as if you're making things easy for me."

"I'm sorry."

"It's OK. It happens."

"I'm sorry."

"I don't know, what would you like me to ask you?"

" . . . "

"I don't know, do you have dreams, for example . . . is there anything you dream about, for when you're grown up, anything that . . . well, a dream."

DIESEL: I'd like to see the world. You know what the problem is? I don't get in cars and I can't fit on a bus, I'm too big, there's nowhere for me to sit, it's like the slide. Always the same thing, and there's no solution. Ridiculous, right? But meanwhile I'd like to see the world, and there's no way: I just have to stay here and look at the pictures in the newspapers, or in the atlas. It's the same with trains, a disaster-I tried, it was a disaster. There's no way. All I want is to sit and watch the world go by outside the windows of something big enough to transport me, that's all. It seems like nothing, and yet. If you really want to know, it's the only thing that I really miss, I mean, I'm happy to be the way I am, I wouldn't want to be an ordinary person, the same as everyone else, I'm glad to be the way I am. There's just that one thing. I feel I'm too big to be able to see the world, like a grown-up. Only that. Really, it's the only thing that makes me mad.

"I think maybe we've had enough, Gould."


"In other words, we can stop here."


"You're sure you don't want to say anything?"

"Like what?"

"Is there something you want to say, before we stop? Anything."

"Yes. Perhaps there is. One thing."

"Good, Gould. Then say it."

"Do you know who Prof. Taltomar is?"

"Is he one of your professors?"

"More or less. He's not at school."


"He's always sitting on the edge of a soccer field, just behind the goal. We sit there together, the two of us. And we watch, you see?"


"Well, I wanted to say that every so often someone takes a shot and the ball goes out of play, past the goal. Sometimes it rolls right by us and stops a little farther on. Then the goalie, usually it's the goalie, takes a few steps off the field, sees us, and calls Ball, please, the ball, thanks. And Prof. Taltomar never moves, he goes on staring at the field, as if nothing had happened. This has happened dozens of times, and we have never gone to get the ball, you see?"


"So the professor and I, it's not that we talk much, we watch, that's all, but one day I decided to ask him. I asked him: Why don't we ever go and get the damn ball? He spat some tobacco on the ground and then he said: Either you watch or you play. He didn't say anything else. Either you watch or you play."

" . . . "

" . . . "

"And then?"

"And then that's all."

"Is that what you wanted to say, Gould?"

"Yes, that was it."

"Nothing else?"


"All right."

" . . . "

"All right, then, we'll stop here."

"Is that all right?"

"Yes, that's all right."


What are we to make of this stuff ? said Vack Montorsi when he saw the tape. Vack Montorsi was the producer of the Friday night special. It wouldn't even keep a cokehead awake, he pointed out while, hand on the remote, he fast-forwarded, looking for something that wasn't depressing. They had tried to interview Gould's father, but he had said that as far as he could tell television journalists were a bunch of perverts and he wanted nothing to do with them. So they were left with just a few shots of Gould's school and a series of distinctly boring statements released by his professors. They said things like "talent must be protected" or "the intelligence of that boy is a phenomenon that leads one to reflect on the." Vack Montorsi fast-forwarded and shook his head.

"There's a point where one of them is crying," said the interviewer, playing her last decent card.

"Where is it?"

"Farther on."

Vack Montorsi fast-forwarded. A professor appeared, in slippers.

"It's him."

It was Mondrian Kilroy.

"But he's not crying."

"He cries later."

Vack Montorsi hit "play."

". . . in large part that is only nonsense. People believe that the difficulties of a prodigy originate in the pressure placed on him by those around him, in the terrible expectations they have of him. That's nonsense. The real problem is within, and others have nothing to do with it. The real problem is talent. Talent is like a cell gone mad, it grows uncontrollably and under no compulsion. It's as if someone had built a bowling alley in your house. It ruins you completely, yet it's also beautiful, and maybe in time you learn to bowl, brilliantly, and you become the greatest bowler in the world, but your house, how in the world can you put it right, how can you save it, how do you manage to hold on to something so that eventually, at the right moment, you can say This is my house, get out, you pigs, it's my house. You can't do it. Talent is destructive, it's objectively destructive, and what happens around it doesn't count. It works from the inside, and destroys. You have to be very strong, to save something. And that is a boy. Can you imagine a bowling alley in the middle of a boy's house? Just the noise it makes, every blessed day, a constant uproar, and the certainty that silence, true silence-you can forget about it. Houses without silence. What sort of houses are they? Who can restore that boy's house to him? You, with your video camera? I with my lessons? I?"

And here, in fact, Prof. Mondrian Kilroy blew his nose, took off his eyeglasses, and wiped his eyes with a large wrinkled blue handkerchief. It was, if you will, something like crying.

"That's it?" asked Vack Montorsi.

"More or less."

Vack Montorsi turned off the video recorder.

"What else do we have?"

"The twins and the story of the fake Mona Lisa."

"The Mona Lisa is revolting."

Friday night a special on a pair of English twins was aired. For three years they had taken turns going to school and no one had realized it. Not even their fiancée. Who now had a bit of a problem.

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Excerpted from City by Alessandro Baricco. Copyright © 2002 by Alessandro Baricco. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.