Today on Gawker they have their 50 Best opening lines in literature.
I don’t know if this is my favorite but it’s the first one that came to mind:
“and it’s a story that might bore you but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that, and it was, she thinks, her first year, or, actually weekend, really a Friday, in September, at Cam-den, and this was three or four years ago, and she got so drunk that she ended up in bed, lost her virginity (late, she was eighteen) in Lorna Slavin’s room, because she was a Freshman and had a roommate and Lorna was, she remembers, a Senior or a Junior and usually sometimes at her boyfriend’s place off-campus, to who she thought was a Sophomore Ceramics major but who was actually either some guy from N.Y.U., a film student, and up in New Hampshire just for The Dressed To Get Screwed party, or a townie.”
It’s from “The Rules of Attraction” by Bret Easton Ellis. It’s one of my favorite books and I’ve read it a half dozen times. I read it, give it away, realize I want to read it again and give it away again. That’s the cycle that’s occurred a half dozen times since college.
Anyway, it’s good.
Here’s my favorite chapter, it contains no spoilers. It’s told from the perspective of Sean Bateman, younger brother of the infamous Patrick Bateman. He’s one of three main characters (all in college) in the story and the three of them switch perspective on a chapter to chapter basis. This is Bateman telling us about a girl:
Sitting in class, staring at the desk, someone’s carved ‘Whatever Happened To Hippie Love?’ I guess the first girl I kind of liked at Camden was this hippie I met my Freshman year. She was really stupid but so gorgeous and so insatiable in bed that I couldn’t help myself. I had met her once, before I fucked her, at a party off-campus my first term. The hippie had offered me some pot and I was drunk so I smoked it. I was so drunk in fact and the pot was so bad that I threw up in the backyard and passed out in some girl’s car who had brought me. I was embarrassed but not really, even though the girl who drove was pissed off since I lost it again all over the backseat of her Alfa Romeo on the way back to campus, and was jealous since she could tell that the hippie and I had been making eyes at each other all night, and had seen the hippie even kiss me before I left to throw up in back.
I really got to meet her the following term when another person I knew when I first came to Camden (and who had been a hippie but quit) introduced us at a party at my urging. I cringed, mortified, when to my shock I realized I had been in the hippie’s Intro to Poetry Workshop my first term and this girl on the first day of class, so high her head looked like it was on springs, like some doped-up jack-in-the-box, raised her hand and said slowly, ‘This class is a total mindfuck.’ I dropped the class, disconcerted, but still wanting to fuck the hippie.
This was the Eighties, I kept thinking. How could there be any hippies left? I knew no hippies when I was growing up in New York. But here was a hippie, from a small town in Pennsylvania, no less. A hippie who was not too tall, who had long blond hair, features sharp, not soft like one would expect a hippie’s features to resemble, yet distant, too. And the skin smooth as brown marble and as clean. She always seemed clean; in fact she seemed abnormally healthy. A hippie who would say things like, ‘None of your beeswax,’ or commenting on food, ‘This is really mellow chili.’ A hippie who would bring her own chopsticks to every meal. A hippie who had a cat named Tahini.
JIMI LIVES was painted in big purple letters on her door. She was constantly stoned. Her favorite question was ‘Are you high?’ She wore tie-dyed shirts. She had beautiful smallish firm tits. She wore bell-bottoms and tried to learn how to play the sitar but she was always too stoned. She tried to dress me up one night: bell-bottoms, tie-dyed shirt, headband. Didn’t work. It was extremely embarrassing. She said ‘beautiful’ constantly. She didn’t have any goals. I read the poetry she’d write and lied that I liked it. She had a BMW 2002. She carried a bong in a tie-dyed satchel that she had made herself.
Like all rich hippies (for this hippie was extremely wealthy; her father owned VISA or something) she spent a lot of time following The Dead around. She’d simply split school for a week with other rich hippies and they’d follow them around New England, stoned out of their minds, reserving rooms and suites at Holiday Inns and Howard Johnsons and Ramada Inns, making sure to always have enough Blue Dragon or MDA or MDMA or Ecstasy. She’d come back from these excursions ecstatic, claiming that she was indeed one of Jerry’s long lost children; that her mother had made some sort of mistake before she married the VISA guy, that she truly was one of ‘Jerry’s kids.’ I guess she was one of Jerry’s kids, though I wasn’t sure which kind.
There were problems.
The hippie kept telling me I was too stiff, too uptight. And because of this the hippie and I broke up before the end of term. (I don’t know if that’s the real reason, but looking back it seems weird that we even bothered since the sex was so good.) It came to an end one night when I told her, ‘I think this is not working.’ She was stoned. I left her at the party after we made out in her room upstairs at Dewey House. I went home with her best friend She never knew or realized it.
The hippie was always tripping, which bothered me too. The hippie was always trying to get me to trip with her. I remembered the one time I did trip with her I saw the devil: it was my mother. I was also sort of amazed that she even liked me in the first place. I would ask her if she’d ever read much Hemingway. (I don’t know why I asked her about him since I never had read that much.) She would tell me about Allen Ginsberg and Gertrude Stein and Joan Baez. I asked
her if she had read Howl (which I had only heard about through some crazy class called Poetry and the Fifties, which I failed) and she said, ‘No. Sounds harsh.’
The last time I saw the hippie I was reading an article on the postmodern condition (this was when I was a Lit major, before I became a Ceramics major, before I became a Social Science major) for some class I failed in some stupid magazine called The New Left, and she was sitting on the floor of the smoking section, stoned, looking at the pictures in the novelization of the movie Hair with some other girl. She looked up at me and giggled then slowly waved. ‘Beautiful,’ she said, turning a page, smiling.
Yeah. Beautiful,’ I said.
‘I can dig it,’ the hippie told me after I read some of her haiku and told her I didn’t get it. The hippie told me to read The Tale of Genji (all of her friends had read it) but You have to read it stoned,’ she warned. The hippie also had been to Europe. France was ‘cool’ and India was ‘groovy’ but Italy wasn’t cool. I didn’t ask why Italy wasn’t, but I was intrigued why India was ‘groovy.’
‘The people are beautiful,’ she said. ‘Physically?’ I asked.
‘Spiritually?’ I asked.
‘They were groovy.’
I started liking the word ‘groovy’ and the word ‘wow.’ Wow. Spoken low, with no exclamation, eyes half-closed, fucking, how the hippie said it.
The hippie cried when Reagan won (the only other time I’d seen her cry was when the school dropped the yoga classes and replaced them with aerobics), even though I had explained patiently, carefully, what the outcome of the election was going to be, weeks in advance. We were on my bed and we were listening to a Bob Dylan record I had bought in town a week earlier, and she just said, sadly, ‘Fuck me,’ and I fucked the hippie.
One day I asked the hippie why she liked me since I was so different from her. She was eating pita bread and bean sprouts and writing on a napkin with a purple pen, a request for the comment board in the dining hall: More Tofu Please. She said, ‘Because you’re beautiful.’
I got fed up with the hippie and pointed to a fat girl across the room who had written something nasty about me on the laundry room wall; who had come up to me at a Friday night party and said, ‘You’d be gorgeous if you were five inches taller .’
‘Is she beautiful?’ I asked.
She looked up, bean sprout stuck on lower lip, squinted and said, Yeah.’
‘That bitch over there?’ I asked, pointing, appalled. ‘Oh her. I thought you meant that sister over there,’ she said.
I looked around. ‘Sister? What sister? No, her,’ exasperated, I pointed at the girl; mean-looking, fat, black sunglasses, a bitch.
‘Her?’ the hippie asked.
‘She’s beautiful too,’ she said, drawing a daisy next to the message on the napkin.
‘What about him?’ I pointed to a guy who it was rumored had actually caused his girlfriend to kill herself and everyone knew. There was no way in hell the hippie could think that he, this fucking monster, was beautiful.
‘Him? He’s beautiful.’
‘Him? Beautiful? He killed his fucking girlfriend. Ran her over,’ I said.
‘No way,’ the hippie grinned.
Yes! It’s true. Ran her straight over with a car,’ I said, excited.
She just shook her lovely, empty head. ‘Oh man.’ ‘Can’t you make distinctions?’ I asked her. ‘I mean, our sex is great, but how can everything, everyone be beautiful? Don’t you understand that that means no one is beautiful?’
‘Listen, man,’ the hippie said. ‘What are you getting at?’
She looked at me, not grinning. The hippie could be sharp. What was I getting at? I didn’t know. All I know was that the sex was terrific.
And that the hippie was cute. She loved sweet pickles. She liked the name Willie. She even liked Apocalypse Now. She was not a vegetarian. These were all on the plus side. But, once I introduced her to my friends, at the time, and they were all stuck-up asshole Lit majors and they made fun of her and she understood what was going on and her eyes, usually blue, too blue, vacant, were sad. And I protected her. I took her away from them. (‘Spell Pynchon,’ they asked her, cracking up.) And she introduced me to her friends. And we ended up sitting on some Japanese pillows in her room and we all smoked some pot and this little hippie girl with a wreath on her head, looked at me as I held her and said, ‘The world blows my mind.’ And you know what?
I fucked her anyway.