Poe Ballantine: Things I Like About America

Poe Ballantine: Things I Like About America. London: Old Street Publishing, 2009.

No encuentro traducciones al castellano de este novelista y ensayista norteamericano nacido en Denver en 1955. Así que si un algún editor pasa por este blog mi consejo es que Poe Ballantine es una apuesta segura.

Es un autor atípico, marginal y con un sentido del humor a prueba de moteles baratos, mujeres fatales, drogas variadas, locuras transitorias y trabajos de mierda.  Pasó más de veinte años dando tumbos de ciudad en ciudad, empleándose de cocinero, y, como Bukowski, escribiendo, corrigiendo, fracasando, hasta conseguir finalmente publicar.

Este libro lo componen once relatos:

«She’s Got Barney Rubble Eyes» y «Failure of a Man Named Love» son historias de amor imposible con mujeres desquiciadas, histéricas o inalcanzables. Para quien lo necesite cito un consejo para ligar del primero de ellos:

I had inadvertently, with the long practice high school had given me, discovered the essencial trick in capturing women’s interest, which was to ignores them entirely. (p. 36)

«Where the Rain Belongs» refleja muy bien el sentimiento de impotencia que experimenta el narrador para cambiar las injusticias que le rodean: el niño desatendido de unos yonkis, el husky siberiano encadenado y muerto de hambre…»

Never and Nowhere» trata sobre la búsqueda de la ciudad perfecta:

For twenty years I’ve had a vision of the ideal place. I’ve tried to explain the place but I can’t. It is something like nowhere but not a ghost town. It is alive. It is not the vision of a televangelist: Leave It To Beaver with a cop on every corner. Neither is it some apparition of the future: twenty-four-hour abortion and free milkshakes for the poor. It’s a place just as free as New York City, but there are no hookers circling my motel room like tranquil sharks in their tan leather jackets and parasols, and it’s quite possible I can’t buy liquor on Sundays. Nobody seems to understand this place. (pp. 87-88)

A Piano Enters the Room» muestra, por un lado, al artista inmaduro que se pasa el día inventando excusas cada vez más disparatadas sobre por qué su genio aún no ha despertado y, por otro, al narrador, obsesionado con la escritura, con publicar, hasta que finalmente lo consigue.»

Bingo Clock» tiene reminiscencias de El diablo en la botella de Stevenson. El narrador se emborracha con un indio, también cocinero, que lleva una mala racha bastante seria: accidentes de trabajo, un nieto diagnosticado de una enfermedad incurable, una hija embarazada enferma de cáncer, un hijo en la cárcel acusado de homicidio y piedras de riñón. El indio cree que la mala racha se debe a un pequeño reloj maldito que le regaló su mujer. Intenta endosárselo al narrador pero este se da cuenta y le propone una solución mejor: dejarlo en el mostrador de un restaurante de comida rápida y que la mala suerte acompañe a otro durante un tiempo y así irá pasando de mano en mano. La vida misma.

«How I Lost My Mind and Other Adventures» trata sobre la imposibilidad de escribir buena literatura si uno está instalado en la universidad. También de la posibilidad de volverse loco si uno intenta escribir desde fuera, al margen, en medio de la pobreza, el alcohol, las drogas y las habitaciones con cucarachas. El tiempo que pasa en el ambiente confortable de la Universidad lo dedica a convertirse en psicólogo, es decir, en drug counselor.

Since I had a bunch of psychology credits saved up from my long-ago college experience, I decided to become a psychology major. I would be a drug counselor. It seemed the only thing I was really qualified to do, having spent ten years screwed up on drugs. Now that I was done with them, I felt I could help others with the knowledge I’d gained through my stupidity. But psychology was difficult to swallow. It was entirely theoretical. If you were good with words, you could become famous by making up your own psychological disorder: Attention Deficit Disorder, Repressed Memory Syndrome, Mississippi Small Town Traveling Syndrome. In the hundred years since the birth of psychology, two million maladies have thus been named, and twice as many theories proposed, but no one has yet come up with a single scientific law, rule, or objective formula. A hundred years is a long time to study something supposedly scientific without establishing even one empirical law. (p. 138)

Sin embargo, la literatura y el ambiente universatario no son compatibles:

How can you expect to produce anything interesting or different while sitting in secure, climate-controlled comfort year after year, doing exactly what you’re told? How do you get your certificate of longstanding conformity and then expect somehow to stand out from the crowd? I tried not to think of my own situation in the same light. I was the exception, which is what every member of the institution thinks. (p. 141)

«An Unfamiliar Form of Solitaire» trata el tema del gringo que muere solo en Méjico y «Estrellita» de la extraña soledad de una niña perdida en un pueblo de la frontera.

Los dos mejores relatos son «La Calidad de la Vida» y «Things I Like About America». El sentido del humor, la ironía, el sarcasmo alcanzan en estas páginas un nivel memorable.  El primero de ellos arranca así:

EVERY YEAR MY BACK GOES OUT. IT’S LIKE A SPECIAL anniversary which I celebrate by groaning a lot and walking around like Groucho Marx with his tie caught in his zipper… ( p. 155)

En esa condición patética Poe Ballantine realiza una serie de agudas comparaciones entre Méjico y Estados Unidos. Por ejemplo, cuando va a la farmacia:

I hobble into the small, open-fronted store and say hello to the girl who runs the place. She smiles and squints at me. Apparently, my Spanish sounds to her like a moronic Bavarian child in lederhosen talking after inhaling helium. The comedy is undoubtedly compounded by my crooked posture and untied shoes.

Whenever she gets the opportunity, the liquor-store girl nicks me for two or three pesos. She earns the minimum wage of thirty-five pesos a day (figure a peso to be roughly the equivalent of a dime), so, though it doesn’t warm my heart to see her steal from me, I don’t object. Lately, I have even begun tipping her, rewarding her for her dishonesty. This is a fainthearted and futile American strategy called ‘reverse psychology’… (p. 158)

O respecto a las mujeres:

Mexicans are a very healthy people as a rule, but I sometimes wonder about the women’s vision. Any American woman will tell you I am no catch -passive, poor, bland in appearance, and way too old (forty-three) to be on TV, except in a commercial for garden products or bran flakes. But these girls swoon and send me notes. They drop by in the evenings and ask me to translate things for them… They recognize that even as a cabdriver in America, my income would exceed the gross national product of Portugal.

Y finalmente los doctores:

I return to thank the doctor with an effusive gratitude she is probably accustomed to by now. Then I buy a pack of cigarettes, which she is happy to sell me. Where in America can you get your back fixed for twenty-five bucks and buy a pack of cigarettes from your doctor? This is I what I love about Mexico: la calidad de la vida. The quality of life.

«Things I like about America» es una descripción sarcástica del sueño americano:

FOND DU LAC IS ESSENTIALLY ANYWHERE, U.S.A., AN automobile town, spread out as far as possible, littered with broken beer bottles and fast-food trash, and populated with obese and unhappy people dressed up like bikers and pirates.

Todo gracias a esa octava maravilla del mundo llamada capitalismo. Aquí cito un párrafo demoledor sobre el funcionamiento de las empresas de trabajo temporal…

Finally, I was ‘interviewed’ in the back room. Oh, an employment service. They take a cut from your wage, don’t they? No, they cover your insurance and the employer pays them above the base wage. This is cheaper than having to pay employees sick leave, vacation, pension fund, medical insurance, etc.They can fire you any time they like owe you nothing, not a minute’s notice, not a good-luck trinket or a handshake goodbye. This is America the machine. It works quite well. The people in the machine look a little dazed, however. They have dyed their hair purple. They are covered with jewelry and tattoos.Their children are scattered across the country. They have serious substance-abuse problems. They are working on a historically unparalleled suicide rate. They exhibit about as much joy and innocence as old whores out on the boulevard. But the machine is working very smoothly, thank you.(p. 209)

Poe Ballantine concluye que lo que más le gusta de Estados Unidos es

A Greyhound bus headed for the Mexican border.

2 comentarios en “Poe Ballantine: Things I Like About America

  1. Hola. Llevo días dándole vuelta a lo de la sinceridad de los autores, y hoy me encuentro con otra realidad: ya no hay editoriales independientes, se controla más lo que se publica. Está la Red, pero Internet es para todos y para nadie, porque sin promoción no llegan a ningún sitio los autores.
    Un saludo. Curiosa entrada, ¿qué razón habrá para no traducir este libro y publicarlo aquí?

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