Buffalo, NY—From the first lines of Goodbye Columbus local author P.A. Kane knew the writing of Philip Roth was going to have a substantial impact on his life. Regardless of differences of place, time and background, Kane had a great affinity for Columbus’ protagonist Neil Klugman, a young Jewish man working a low paying job in the Newark Public Library. Swinging for the fences, Klugman seeks and wins the affection of WASPY Brenda Patimkin, but ultimately is rejected because of class differences. Despite being a lapsed South Buffalo Catholic, Kane nevertheless, identified with Klugman’s resentments, longings and heartbreak.
From there Kane explored more Philip Roth: The Human Stain, The Plot Against America, American Pastoral and most of all Portnoy’s Complaint.
Coming of age in the early 70’s, on more than a few occasions Kane was caught in compromising positions by his mom, who would gently tell him: “God already knows how you’re mistreating your body, but if you touch yourself and then rub your eyes you’ll get styes. Then I’ll know and I’ll be very disappointed.”
Years of tortured hand washing and fear of burgeoning red pustules forming around his eyes followed. This was really confusing for Kane since he had little control over his bodily functions or how his hands seem to automatically wander when he saw iconic posters of Farrah Fawcett or when viewing Ann Margret rolling around in beans & chocolate in the movie Tommy, which he saw twenty times.
Portnoy’s Complaint put an end to this confusion, guilt and hand washing. In the novel, young Alexander Portnoy is overwhelmed by his mother and rebels through constant acts of self-manipulation. In the family bathroom, on the bus, in his baseball mitt, even into a raw slab of liver. Up to fifty times a day Portnoy performs these defiant acts. After reading Portnoy, Kane realized he never had a hint of a pimple around his eyes and furthermore, if God was reduced to monitoring a kid in South Buffalo in the throes of hormonal outrage could he really be considered a perfect omniscient being or just another low-frequency pervert?
Freed of these constraints Kane violated himself with impunity and over the years has come to regard this great awakening of self-manipulation as his first steps in becoming a man. Despite jarring reprimands from his mother after finding the crusty sock he used when defiling himself he was undeterred. It was the first significant break from her and her stifling attempts to control him. And, increasingly Kane found God to be an instrument of fear and means to control man, rather than a force of goodness and moral rectitude.
So, to honor the great Philip Roth, who was so instrumental in helping him to break free from the tyranny of his body, Kane is planning on a quiet weekend with himself. Nothing crazy, just a healing bottle of wine, some candle light, maybe a soothing Bill Evans vibe and plenty of essential oils to move the process along.