Post Road Magazine #10

OLT by Kenneth Gangemi
Vendela Vida


1. List of Things I’ve Been Given and Whether or Not I’ve Said Thank Yo

Things  Thank you?
The almost perfect vessel yes
Ant farm, without the farm no
Rubberband yes
Old green shag rug no
Oat cake (in a city where they were hard to find) no
Silver dollars from Grandma no, too late
Albino goldfish  yes
Badminton birdies yes
Badminton net no
Olt by Kenneth Gangemi no

2. The problem with being given a book is, if you’re like me, you probably don’t get around to reading it for a couple years. And then, if you like it, you might want to thank the person who gave it to you, but you wonder if it was wrong or rude to not have read the book within the year you received it. Especially if the book is Kenneth Gangemi’s Olt, which is 55 pages and can be read in under an hour. Yes, it’s shorter than some short stories, and yet it more closely resembles a novel than a story. Don’t argue with me and call it a long short story. Particularly if you haven’t read it.

3. This is all a long way of saying that four years ago an editor I had never met sent me Olt. He ordered it from a used bookstore and sent it to me because it’s out of print and he thought I might like it. I kept waiting for the day I read it to thank him, but when that day turned out to be four years later I made a list of excuses. I only got up to explaining 320 days; after that, everything seemed apocryphal.

4 . Olt is titled after its main character, Robert Olt. The cover of Olt (at least the one I have) depicts a naked woman sitting in a coffee cup. This, I gather, is because Olt passes much of his time in coffee shops and watching women. He also spends time in art galleries, libraries, and zoos. Each fall, he spends a week at a different university. “He enjoyed a week at a university the way other people enjoyed a week at a resort. He delighted in the facilities of a good university. He like the trimmed lawns, the pretty girls, the well-kept tennis courts, the peaceful shaded campuses, the vaulted reading rooms of the great libraries, the excitement of the cool October mornings, the bustling university streets with students, cafes, and bookstores.”

5. Olt is a wanderer, a lover of women. One of the girls he visits, the one who for a while shaved only her right armpit, keeping the left full of silky brown hair, makes a list of old college friends she’s recently seen; after every name she writes growth or degeneration. The list reads exactly like this:

degeneration degeneration growth degeneration degeneration growth degeneration degeneration degeneration degeneration degeneration

6. Olt himself is a classifier of experiences, a list-maker. At the library, he composes a list of all the words that are not in the abridged dictionary:

auctorial sabra achphenomenon cacotopia polymath chemoreception logophile parabiotic

etc. He decides that when it gets longer, he’ll send a copy to the editors of the dictionary.

7. Reading Olt makes you want to keep track of how you spend your time, of how you pass all the yellow days that turn into black that turn into yellow again. It makes you want to thank the person who gave you the book—if only you weren’t so embarrassed that it took you such a god- damn long time to read it.

Vendela Vidais a founding co-editor of the Believer, and the author, most recently, of the novel And Now You Can Go, published last year by Knopf. She lives in Northern California and is working on her next novel.

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