Universal Story Engine

Universal Story Engine

Dreams đź“š

A friend put me in touch with Dimitri Nabokov, son and translator of the great Vladimir Nabokov. I worked for NBC then and I wanted to do a news segment about Nabokov’s Lolita because they were doing a a movie about it, a remake of the Kubrick film, as if that were even remotely possible.

I have read every Nabokov book I could get my hands on since the day I discovered Glory on my parents’ bookshelf and read it on one sitting. I felt lightheaded as I spoke with Dimitri on the phone, his words a direct line of oxygen to the creative force that was his father. I never produced a segment about Lolita. The network rejected the idea.  

A decade later, I was seeking adventure to escape a ruined marriage and a crashed career. I hired a guide to take me on a literary tour of Buenos Aires. She brought me into a bookstore, where I bought a paperback copy of El Aleph in Spanish, a Borges story that describes a single point in space that contains all other points. The next stop on the tour, I was amazed to learn, was the Borges home. Going there was enough for me, and yet my guide wanted to offer more, insisting that we could go inside, perhaps to have an informal tour.

She rang the bell. Maria Kodama answered the door. She was Borges’s second wife, the keeper of his estate and his flame. I couldn’t find any words.

She asked if she could show me around. In addition to my newly-purchased copy of El Aleph, I was carrying a paperback book of Borges short stories, Labyrinths, which contained a story called “Funes the Memorious.” “Funes” is about a man who can remember everything. He can remember entire days, but it takes an entire day to recount the memory because it is so detailed. I have been fascinated with this idea since I was sixteen. I have owned the book since 1972.

I felt as thorough I was in a remake of a movie I didn’t remember making the first time as Maria Kodama walked me through Borges’s library, floor to ceiling with books, with a ladder to get at those at the very top. We moved into the study where he wrote the story I held in my hand, “Funes the Memorious.” My copy has a small black mark by the title that I scratched there. The mark meant that I liked the story. I remember that summer when I was sixteen, my parents gave me a charge account as the local bookstore. I ran up a bill of $1000 in a few weeks devouring books. I had never read anything like Borges before that summer. The stories in that book stood somewhere in a world that was solid and convincing and in another that was fragile and strange. I tried to take them apart to understand how they worked but I never succeeded. They always retained their mystery.  

Maria Kodama was kind enough to tell me that “Funes” was one of the author’s favorite stories and I can still see her open face as she said those words. I doubt that was true. She was being nice to me, this bedraggled open-mouthed man, dazed from a crashed career and divorce, missing his children, wandering.

I have no other memories of that day. It has slipped away, a moment that I chase down tricky mirrored hallways, as strange and solid as a Borges story. The only record I can locate now is a slip of paper. It is tucked in my copy of Labyrinths. It is from a notepad. I must have taken it from the hotel to prove to myself that the day really happened. It says, Argenta Tower Hotels & Suites, Juncal 868, C10 62ABF, Tel. 4325-4100. Fax 4326-7090. Reservas 4325-0607. 

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