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Portrait of Duff

by David Galef


When I think of Duff, I think of the itchiness of everyday life and the scratchiness of certain individuals. Duff wants to be loved for himself alone, but what’s he got to offer? He’s a one-man conversation with a personality like a sound-loop.

“Working on it,” he answers, whether you’re asking about his jottings, which he scrawls in a sixth-grader’s spiral-bound notebook, or his constipation, which he throws a lot of prunes at. He writes while on the toilet so as not to waste time.

Mostly he doesn’t care what he puts in his body—told me once he eats cream of meat. In fact, he’s got an aversion to fancy food and the people who partake of it. When I invited him to a perfectly decent place called Café, he complained about high-concept restaurants with nowhere to sit and nothing to eat.

But I hang out with him because he’s a thinker and shares his ideas. Like most great ruminators, he suffers from insomnia. The bomb in his head goes off at four every morning.

What does he jot down? “Transcendent moments,” he told me, “like the silence after a burp or the pause just before a bird craps on the windshield.” At my urging, he did try his hand at writing formal prose but got only as far as an essay title, “The Sadness of Warts.”

Duff sneers at love. “These days, most women wouldn’t, half of them aren’t, and none of them do.” But he’s talked about sexing up someone he calls the fungus lady, whom he appreciates with tenderness and mayonnaise for her pleasing geometry.

Now that Duff’s nearing sixty, he says he feels decaffeinated and often falls into what he calls a piece of forgetfulness. The routines he once swore by he now swears at, calling them exercises in daily futility. “It’s all bananas from here on in,” he mutters obscurely.

When he said he was on a roll, I didn’t realize he meant downhill. But he still manages to get there and back. The other day I saw him with a blonde angel who was fondling his notebook and stroking his stubby pencil.

What’s your secret? I want to nudge him. Teach me your strategy!

“Life is such a crap shoot,” he smiles, loading the dice.

 

David Galef has published over seventy short stories in magazines ranging from the old British Punch to the Czech Prague Revue, the Canadian Prism International and the American Shenandoah and The Gettysburg Review. His two novels are Flesh and Turning Japanese, and his latest book is the short-story collection Laugh Track. He’s a professor of English and the administrator of the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi.


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