Neil Pollack writes Jewball

Rue d'Hiver 16

Dear Jim Blanka,

You are no doubt wondering who I am and why I am writing to you. Those are good questions. I ask them of myself, often. Who am I? I left France twenty years ago barely a man and returned, well, I feel old. I bear the marks of hundreds of different hands. Listen to me! I have grown painfully moody.

I write as a friend. I offer myself to you as a friend! A mutual friend—Link—gave me your address and suggested I contact you, that you might know better than him the particular difficulties of the life of a former simulated, 2-dimensional, poorly designed fighter. Do you? Do you understand me when I ask you who are we once we leave the ring, or, in your case, the street? Who are we if not fighters? Once, I moved to the will of some invisible master, but now, suddenly, for it still seems sudden, I am masterless, adrift, without ore or rudder. Who now moves my limbs? Is it simply me? Is it me that bends my body down to dig out a radish from my garden or that slides a few coins across the counter in exchange for some bread?

Perhaps what I say is strange to you. If it isn't, please consider responding to my letter, with encouragement, wisdom, or simply understanding.

Yours truly,

"Glass" Joe Lefleur

Dear Joe,

I know whereof you speak. Let me explain. Today I went to the market and wandered the stalls. Mothers gasped and pulled their children close, as always. And as always I hardly noticed. I am a hulking, orange-pelted, green-skinned beast-man charged with electricity -- how else should they respond? So I perused the great heaps of cashews and guavas and little dried fishes (although I was known for leaping onto an opponent’s chest and eating his face, I abhor red meat), and—

Geoff man, I'm sorry. I don't think I can do this this way. I spent like an hour last night writing the thin sentences above, and I just hate doing it. I think maybe what's happening is that I'm writing really cutesy freelance articles (I mean truly vapid, braindead shit) this summer to try to make some extra money and it's causing me to be hypersensitive to and intolerant of anything cute in my "real" writing. And trying to write as Blanka feels cute. Anyway I have one feeble thought: maybe we can just have a lively, witty correspondence on GJ and JB and it can be awesome and interesting in the way that if you look deeply into anything for long enough it can yield real stuff? The DFW approach or something?

I like what you wrote and I think it's totally charming and actually kind of eerie and I want to be on board and I really don’t want you to have wasted your time but I can’t hold up my end. Can we try another way?

Nico starts anew, no longer pretending to be Jim Blanka from Streetfighter, but writing directly to Geoff:

Dear Geoff,

Nico AlvaradoI had forgotten that Glass Joe was French. I played my share of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (the fact that there are two exclamation points instead of one or three seems suddenly meaningful to me—like the biographies of the characters, they kind of just hang there, off-balance, incomplete and excessive at once, pushily insisting on themselves then falling apart under scrutiny) during a fuzzily remembered couple of years in the late '80s, when I was ten and eleven and twelve. (I had my own NES, but I don't recall if I owned that particular game. The whole Nintendo thing was, like flesh-and-blood sports, sort of beside the point for me; I mostly just played to pass the time.) I liked whipping Joe's ass, but I bogged down pretty quickly with the next two or three opponents. Point being I remember Joe but no one else, and I don't know if that's because he was first and so you had to fight him every single time, or because he was special, sorrowful, tragic. His name feels deeply literal. I think of him and I think he is made of glass. The French thing is just stupid.


Dear Nico,

I'm not sure that looking at Glass Joe or Blanka can yield anything real, since they themselves are not real, nor do they come from a real, or really very interesting, place. And I do mean Japan. But I'm willing to try. (Although I will say I thought I was onto something with the absurd-but-under-that-absurdity-something-earnest-and-maybe-even-existential approach.) (Although, reading over what I wrote to you, it does sound pretty ridiculous. Ardennes is Rimbaud's home town--or region--it’s where he wrote A Season in Hell after returning from his European tour with Verlaine, which ended with Verlaine drinking way too much and shooting Rimbaud in the hand. That was after Verlaine had left his wife and child. Anyways, a silly allusion in an article about Glass Joe.) (But maybe Rimbaud and Verlaine can be some kind of counterpoint here.) Like you, all I remember about Mike Tyson's Punch-Out is Glass Joe, and all I remember about Glass Joe is his name. It's so strange. I wish it had been literal. It would have been cool if when you punched him out he actually shattered. That would have made the game more trippy and less about swinging punches but not actually swinging them just pounding on a controller. Remember those kids who, instead of gripping the controller and pressing the buttons with their thumbs, put the controller down and used their pointer fingers? They were more serious. My best friend was way into video games and subscribed to Nintendo Power. Is it silly to point out that Nintendo Power is just a (very) clever (and sinister) way to market products? One thing I wish about my childhood is that people had pointed things like that out to me at the time. But I guess that would have put me in a funny position vis-a-vis my friend, and to be honest I admire his devotion, even if it is to bullshit.


Dear Geoff,

Clearly, you are out of your mind. How can a figure of irredeemable degradation not yield anything real? I went and watched Little Mac KO Joe on YouTube. It took me back: Joe's worried eyes and bad hairdo over his bulging pecs and six-pack; Joe's worried eyes bugging out with each body blow; the spongy bleeps thereof. Man, the monotony of the beatdown. But when he falls it’s with this lurching dancerly grace -- I want that move for myself!

The more I think about Glass Joe the more I think he's beautiful. He never runs from a fight he is doomed to lose, and he exits the stage (consciousness) with great style. I'll take that as a working definition of heroism.


Dear Nico,

Geoff HilsabeckYour descriptions of Glass Joe make me think of Buster Keaton ("but when he falls it's with this lurching dancerly grace"), who is one of my heroes, and very real. But what is this "real"? Real and fake. Our discussions of Glass Joe and Blanka have me wondering if I have a misguided idea of the real, that somehow Glass Joe isn't a real creation because he was created to sell video games. Whereas the Illuminations are real because they were created to, well, who knows why Rimbaud wrote those. "I is another." Maybe he thought it would kickstart his career as a celebrity chef. Was there a better exit than Rimbaud's? One hundred years later and he’s still shrouded in mystery.

But to get back to your point about heroism. Glass Joe can't run; it isn't in his digital DNA. He doesn't have the option of turning down a fight (based on the boxing movies I've seen, that might actually be pretty true to life). But how can that make him a hero? Doesn't the hero have to decide to fight? I’m worried that Glass Joe is a loser, and that's it. I guess with my original letter, I was trying to give him a little redemption, another act done on his own terms, free from all the controlling interests in his life--Nintendo, teenage boys in basements--but which is his Don King?--that pug Little Mac.


Dear Geoff,

You are right and I was wrong: "Glass Joe is a loser, and that’s it." Yes! I think that is it. I think my fumbling around trying to find choice and dignity in his losing missed the point -- he’s a loser, and that’s why he's great. Why did neither of us have any lingering connection with the game’s protagonist? Little Mac has moxie. Little Mac goes up against the big bad guys and wins. Little Mac is spectacularly boring. But Glass Joe: there's a character to love: failed, bruised, bloody, debased. What healthy eleven-year-old boy wouldn't feel a secret, visceral connection with such a chump?


p.s. Also, I think Rimbaud would get a bang out of Glass Joe, ambassador of France.

Glass JoeNico,

I guess we're saying that Glass Joe is a believer. The hero always believes--in himself, his idea, his country, love, justice--but are any of these things real? The hero believes things are real. He believes in reality, and so makes unreal things real. The hero makes the hero real. What a magic act!

Glass Joe is a weatherman. He is a rat on a pier. He carries water. Glass Joe can really whistle. He imitates a radish. He drops a deuce in the bushes because there's nowhere else to go. The song goes like this:

There goes Glass Joe
Thunder on the plains
A goose under his arm
A field of sugarcane

Glass Joe, Glass Joe
Why'd you leave so soon?
Now I got a bone to pick
With Bad Old Mr. Moon


Dear Geoff,

Despite the fact that Glass Joe was invented in order to sell video games to children, and that to call him a fictional character is to insult even the lowliest comic-book drudge, and that his makers are marked by a poverty of imagination and a paucity of means, yes, I think he has some measure of reality because he is bound up in belief—not in himself, but in being something others might believe in. The nerds who made him knew not what they did. But there he is.

Your imagined—believed-in?—Glass Joe, by the way, is realer and more moving to me than...I don’t know. Lots of stuff. I believe in him.



Nico Alvarado’s recent writing is in Witness, Jacket2, and Transom. Geoffrey Hilsabeck trains at the Cambridge-Somerville Y but hasn’t yet been in the ring.