A Tribute to Ron Sukenick
by Mark Amerika
I would like to start my tribute to Ron by doing what a lot of Jews do in these circumstances, that is, I want to talk about my own health. Well, not as a diversion, actually - sometime in May, two months before Ron's departure, I woke up with a gut wrenching pain, a deep fall into the abdominal abyss, and for three days it looked like I would never bounce back. I was sure I was a goner, and how ironic, I thought, that just as things were really starting to come together they were all of a sudden falling apart, painfully - and uncertainly - apart.
Really, though, this is not the sort of thing I want to talk about, but then I was recently asked by FC2 to attend their 30th anniversary celebration and as part of a panel on Ron, to read from his work and open with an anecdote about Ron and the anecdote is this: once I had told Ron of my three-day bout of gut-wrenching uncertainty, he started calling me more and more, sometimes two or three times a day. Here was a man who was clearly not doing well himself, having really LIVED THE LIFE, having lived it perhaps more than any of us have lived it, about to depart to nether realms, and his chief concern was ME. I guess he knew that I too was living the life and that living it in gut-wrenching uncertainty was not helping things a bit - and he knew this as he knew so many things - first hand - and as a great friend he wanted to ease the pain with talk, with circumstantial dialogue - and we talked for as long as could he talk toward the end which was not very long.
Ron, I said, I'm in denial.
Denial's good, he said, sometimes you need denial.
What's funny about this side of Ron is that he was so human. For someone who used fiction to argue our essential inhumanity to ourselves and who was able to get a rise out of liberal humanist scholars all over world, he was decidely human. He wrote about aliens, zombies, vampires, cyborgs, golems, and all of the other post-human constructions he could dream up to accurately portray the world he lived in, the people he was surrounded by. And yet in many ways he himself was the uber-human, all-too-human, Ron.
He was proud of his heritage. He was a Sukiennice, which in Poland, as he eventually found out, referred to garment makers - but garment makers who were uniquely situated to work with a particular kind of woolen cloth. I mean his ancestory were using threaded garments as fashion statements and, over time, branding them Sukiennice. Of course, this makes it easy for me to expand the metaphor a bit and say that Ron too dealt in whole cloth and threaded his mosaic narratives together making his own kind of fashion statement, even if it was unfashionable at the time, and for those of us in the know, this mosaiced narrative was best written under the brand name Sukenick.
Here's something that you probably don't know: Ron and I are related. I'm sure of it. Cut from the same cloth. My ancestory is also from Bialystock, Poland. My great grandfather probably ate bialys with his grandfather. But we were related in other, perhaps more important ways too. We spoke the same bjorsk language. We inadvertently came to writing as a prophecy-making machine and out of writing constructed our flux identities that then fed into our fictions which then in a feedback loop fed our ongoing flux identities.
Sometimes this got to the point of absurdity. I came home one day in the year 2000 and my automatic voice message machine said I had one message, so I Iistened. It was Ron.
Ron: Hi Ron, this is Mark. Call me when you get a chance.
That was Ron. "Hi Ron, this is Mark..."
Talk about transference!
Like all relatives, we could occasionally feel each other's pain. But he seemed especially acute at feeling mine this past May and it was only when I reread 98.6 a few weeks ago that I began to understand why. The excerpt I read in Brooklyn the weekend of his memorial began:
"he feels uneasy. Uneasy and depressed for many hours now he has been wandering from room to room trying to shake off this growing dread dread of what. He doesn't know nothing he can think of yet he senses it as coming from the outside..."