The following is a draft excerpt from my novel in progress, Housebreaking the Muse. The novel is haunted by the character of Jacques Rigaut, the French dadaist, gigolo, drug addict, dandy, and suicide. This fragment is from one of a number of first-person passages that present Rigaut on the night of his suicide.

Portrait of Jacques Rigaut by Man Ray
Portrait of Jacques Rigaut by Man Ray

Failure preserved me: failure of nerve in the Hemlock grove at Fountainebleau, failure of an ancient sidearm chez Rigaut, Boulevard Raspail. A white capped mountain of coco, a river of booze, an arid plain of narcotics—they all failed to take me. Disease failed to draw me to its bosom, and perhaps because my taste and need led me in the direction of wealthy 12-cylinder mistresses, I did not suffer the intimate wounds of Baudelaire (though I reserve the right, should my Ruby fail me, to live long enough to die of cancer). Poverty failed to pull me under, a testament to those same wealthy mistresses, to friends who could not help themselves, to my grudging family, all of whom for so long managed to keep me in a good suit, in my cups, in my chemicals. Who kept me clean and groomed. Who kept me fed and settled my tabs. Who accepted my gifts when the dice rolled my way and I suddenly found myself flush. The failure of failure presents itself as a species of success. I have succeeded by default. An accidental success. Danger: to grow tired of succeeding. And tonight I will succeed: I tested the Ruby right here at Vallée aux Loups, out in the far corner of the Bois de la Cave. Bang.

At the Potinière tonight I came a bit undone. I regressed. Maddened by tiresome dialogue intoned by the frumpy cast of wooden puppets, I interjected with improvised lines of my own. People in the audience thought I was part of the program, which thankfully was nothing more than Savoir’s one-act sketch whose title, “Going to the Dogs,” could not have been more apt. In quiet moments I unloosed the godly baritone of a mad narrator: “Nothing says ‘me’ as much as the elegance of the millionaire’s tattered underpants,” and “It’s boredom that separates the men from the boys.” My gilding drew the attention of an usher who tried to shame me with his torch and gestured with white-gloved fist for me to get the hell out. Porel, however, politely waved him off, then wrapped his arms around me until I came back to myself. In one scene the American dancer Lola Menzeli flitted about the stage, a beautiful insect in human form. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I prayed for the curtain.

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