The Fiery Furnaces
Eleanor was constantly ridiculed in the crudest and least interesting manner by her brother Matthew. He, for his part, had to suffer such things as her coming in the room, and various other affronts, for instance talking, or watching the TV show she wanted, or putting on a record she might like to hear.
So Eleanor had to hide her likes and dislikes until he left. It was a beautiful day. She stood at a second-floor window, watching as Dad drove Matt off, and roughly, excitedly, triumphantly put Houses of the Holy into the CD player, turning up the volume on what used to be her brother’s stereo.
You see Matthew had only liked the Who. He had Who records and videotapes, and as a youth, down in the basement, he tried to make Who noises. But he failed, miserably, and with black jealousy guarded the scene of his humiliation and insufficiency, that basement, where he kept the tape recorder. In fact, Eleanor was hit over the head, stabbed in the knee and smashed on the foot for coming down in the basement. But that didn’t make his songs any better.
Years later, when Matthew—his pride gone, his spirit, such as it was, crushed—encouraged Eleanor to come down in the basement to make their first Fiery Furnaces music together, maybe he should have hit and stabbed and smashed at her. But he just swore. Things had changed.
For in the meantime, while plagiarizing her way to a University of Texas B.A., Eleanor worked as a telemarketer for the Texas Republican Party. Her subsequent adventurous life—think of the courage these expeditions required—included a year spent in London and trips with her mother to Italy, Greece, and the south of France. Her enthusiasm for restaurants, shopping and like-minded people led her to come help, in her small way, gentrify the north end of Brooklyn. And there she lives, with a surprisingly well-developed and wholly undeserved sense of self-righteousness, no observable interests except her own enjoyment of such sophisticated things as cookery and movies, an impressive ability to aggrandize herself at the expense of her already unappealing older brother, taking very long walks, her mind completely blank. Her musical expertise extends so far as to include buying and listening to records and having boyfriends who were, once were, or wanted to be in musical groups. And her greatest achievement remains hitting a 3-run triple, which earned her a headline in the Chicago Sun-Times, “Friedberger’s Big Day Powers Oak Park.” But in the story beneath she was misquoted.
Her older brother went to Germany at 17 and managed to learn not a word of German or even have a good time – apparently pining for mommy and daddy, and doggy, and the comforts of home, which he was incapable of enjoying in the first place. After failing repeatedly at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he cleverly stayed in that fascinating metropolis until he was 26. He then moved back in with his mother, sealing his fate and cementing his status as parasite and waster of indulgence and advantage. Looking for further opportunities to squander goodwill and embarrass himself, he later imposed upon a high school friend to help him move to New York (because his sister made it clear he couldn’t stay with her). He was, you see, the proud author of such works as Spider Spite, Toad King Land and Banobazus Persian Prince. But certainly those things are terrible, and only give evidence of no-talent and periods of excess sponging. No one doing a good job and paying the rent could ever have time for something as stupid and illiterate as Toad King Land. By the way, he has musical ability only as compared to his sister. His only achievement, in fact, is a series of short videos, made with a student he worked with in Urbana, Illinois. But Matthew never bothered to do the obviously needed narration he promised to the student’s mother. And the poor student is now dead. God rest his soul.