Gone with the Mind


By Mark Leyner

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The blazingly inventive fictional autobiography of Mark Leyner, one of America’s “rare, true original voices” (Gary Shteyngart).

Dizzyingly brilliant, raucously funny, and painfully honest, Gone with the Mind is the story of Mark Leyner’s life, told as only Mark Leyner can tell it. In this utterly unconventional novel — or is it a memoir? — Leyner gives a reading in the food court of a New Jersey shopping mall.

The “audience” consists of Mark’s mother and some stray Panda Express employees, who ask a handful of questions. The action takes place entirely at the food court, but the territory covered in these pages has no bounds. A joyride of autobiography, cultural critique, DIY philosophy, biopolitics, video games, demagoguery, and the most intimate confessions, Gone with the Mind is both a soulful reckoning with mortality and the tender story of the relationship between a complicated mother and an even more complicated son.

At once nostalgic and acidic, deeply humane, and completely surreal, Gone with the Mind is a work of pure, hilarious genius.


Part I



Hello, my name is Muriel Leyner, and I’m coordinating director of the Nonfiction at the Food Court Reading Series here at the Woodcreek Plaza Mall. This series has been made possible by the generosity of the International Council of Shopping Centers and Douthat & Associates Properties. And I’d like to single out Jenny Schoenhals, the senior general manager at Woodcreek Plaza Mall, who has worked so diligently on providing us with such a commodious venue here at the food court, and without whom none of this would be possible. I see you couldn’t make it tonight, but thank you so very much, Jenny, wherever you are. And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank our indispensable sponsors: Panda Express, Master Wok, Au Bon Pain, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, California Pizza Kitchen, Cinnabon, Jamba Juice, KFC Express, McDonald’s, Nathan’s Famous, Sbarro, Subway, and Taco Bell.

Before I introduce our reader for tonight, I should point out that, because of the heavy rain and the flash-flood warnings that have been issued by the National Weather Service, no one—not one single person—has actually shown up for the reading…except, uh, I see that we’ve got some of the staff of Panda Express and Sbarro with us. I don’t know if you two guys are just taking a break over there or are actually here for the reading…


We’re just taking a break. We’re definitely not here for the reading!


Well, welcome. There’s nothing more dispiriting for a writer than to have traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles to give a reading, and then find him- or herself facing rows of empty seats. So, I’m especially appreciative that you guys braved such inclement weather and at least showed up for work tonight. At least it provides the semblance of an audience.

“I’ve survived two assassination attempts: one on a highway between Sophia and Plovdiv, Bulgaria, on November 11, 2006, and one in front of a hotel in Los Angeles on February 4, 2008. On December 3, 2012, I was raped by a robot on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 101st Street in New York City. In the summer of 2014, desperate for cash and back on crack, I sold the rights to my life story to a start-up indie video-game developer called MirRaj Entertainment (named after its founders, Miriam Rubenstein and Davesh Rajaratnam).” So begins Gone with the Mind, my son’s autobiography, excerpts from which he will be reading tonight.

Mark Leyner was born at the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City, New Jersey, on January 4, 1956. I was twenty-one years old. During my pregnancy, Mark’s father (my ex-husband, Joel) and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment in a small brick building at 225 Union Street in Jersey City, between Bergen Avenue and the Boulevard. We paid, as I remember, fifty dollars a month in rent. I don’t know why I remember all that so exactly…perhaps because it was our very first apartment. At any rate, about five or six weeks into the pregnancy, I began experiencing terrible, terrible morning sickness. Severe morning sickness. This was at the end of April in 1955. I would throw up all day and all night. (The medical term for this is hyperemesis gravidarum.) And I lost a significant amount of weight. I was down to something ridiculous like eighty-five pounds. My obstetrician-gynecologist, my ob-gyn—although we didn’t abbreviate it back then—was a man named Dr. Schneckendorf. This Dr. Schneckendorf, interestingly enough, had been my own mother’s doctor when she gave birth to me in 1934. And he was a kindly old gent. But nobody really helped with the nausea. Most men, and I’d say especially doctors, looked on it as a form of self-indulgence. I valiantly tried to do everything humanly possible to keep it under control, but…people really thought of it as some sort of psychosomatic malady, almost like a form of malingering, as if I were simply this spoiled Jewish princess. That’s the overwhelming feeling I got from most men, and certainly from most men in the medical profession at that time. At about three months, I began to “feel life,” which is the expression we used then for a mother’s first sensations of the fetus moving around in her uterus. And I could see an outline of his leg sticking out on my right side. He was a very high baby. And I remember being dismayed by what people said—that when you feel life, the nausea would abate—because that certainly didn’t come to pass for me. I was going to NYU at the time—I was finishing up my sophomore year, I think. My father, at one point, had refused to continue paying for my school. He said to me, Well, you went and got married so young, and now you need to go out and work, and you and your husband need to take care of your own financial obligations; I’m not taking care of you anymore. So I went and got a job at a moving and storage company on Ocean Avenue in Jersey City, where I did billing and secretarial work. And I was terrible at it. Terrible! And I went and told my father that I just couldn’t stand being cooped up in that office on Ocean Avenue anymore, and he relented and changed his mind and agreed to help pay for NYU again. But it was very, very difficult for me at that point, given how sick I was feeling just about all the time, throwing up every single day, all day long, and I was missing exams and I was taking Incompletes, and I had no choice but to drop out, essentially. But my husband and I wanted a baby very, very much, and it was also a good time to get pregnant to protect him from the draft—this was only a couple of years after the Korean War. So I tried the best I could to just buck up and get through it. I kept a bowl cradled in one arm to throw up in. I’d spend days at my mother Harriet’s house or she would come over to my house. Afternoons were better, a little better, and I’d try to eat. Chinese food—fried rice—seemed to set better in my stomach. And Mark’s father, after work, would stop at the Jade, which was a Chinese restaurant in Journal Square, and bring me cartons of fried rice. Whenever I felt that I could actually eat something, actually keep something down, I could be very peremptory about it. I remember that summer being down at the Jersey shore, at a beach club in Long Branch, and barking at my sister, Francis, “Get me a well-done hamburger and fries, now!” because I knew how fleeting that appetite could be, and I was absolutely determined to try to stay as healthy and as strong as I possibly could for this baby inside me. That summer we were staying at these little apartments in West Long Branch. There were lots of Jersey City people. And almost every day, the men would go out on fishing boats. And there were rough seas out there. And later in the afternoon, when these guys would get off the boats, they were green, staggering. And I’d say, “Dr. Rubenstein, Uncle Harry, what happened?” I was a fresh kid. I had a fresh mouth. “Uncle This and Uncle That, what happened out there? You don’t look so good.” The fact that they were so seasick, so nauseous, delighted me to no end. Because as far as they were concerned, my terrible, relentless nausea was all in my mind. “If you kept yourself busy. Maybe if you had more floors to wash.” They were all such imperious chauvinists. “If you continue this, we’re going to have to put you in the hospital and feed you intravenously.” Believe me, if this were an ailment of men’s testicles, they would have found a treatment, a cure for it a thousand years go. But they didn’t give a flying fuck. I got vitamin B shots from a doctor who was a friend of my husband, and that helped a bit. But that’s about it. Other women would tell me that morning sickness was a sign of a healthy pregnancy, which was certainly a consolation. And I think that I endured it all with a genuine sense of martyrdom, determined to persevere, in the face of all the sexist, condescending bullshit, for the sake of my baby, for Mark’s sake. And so, that first week in January of 1956, the third, on a Tuesday, my water broke. And Dr. Schneckendorf said come right into the hospital. I remember it was snowy and I had my little bag with me. And Schneckendorf and all the residents told me, “What you need to do is walk. Walk up and down on the hall.” So I walked up and down on the hall. I had my robe—a pale blue-and-white-printed corduroy robe with white linen embroidered collar and cuffs. Buttoned down the front. Like a college girl’s. Slippers. Long, fair hair in a ponytail. And I’m walking, walking, walking…and the pain is getting a bit worse, but I’m thinking, This actually isn’t so bad, it’s like bad cramps. And this sallow-looking young man appears and he says, “Hello.” I thought, That’s strange. “What are you doing here?” he asked, in his very thick Italian accent. I thought that was obvious. “I’m in labor! What are you doing here?” “I’m an anesthesiologist,” he replied. He was flirting with me! I thought that was the funniest thing. Imagine—making a pass at a pregnant woman in a maternity ward! I suppose men just think they can make use of their position whenever the whim strikes them, and women should think it’s wonderful that they think you’re sexy. “I love it, the green-eyed blondes,” he said to me in his accent. Several hours later, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, and I knew what real labor was, what real pain was. And at three o’clock in the morning, after twelve hours of labor, with no painkillers until the very end, this nice, little, perfectly round head emerged. I was ecstatic at the sight of him. I was thrilled and happy and delighted. I was as overjoyed as a human being can be. From the moment I looked at him, I knew how wonderful he was and would always be. There was just this atavistic thrill. It was physical and emotional. My mother came to see us that morning, and she held him. And then the next day, when I woke up, I brushed my hair and brushed my teeth. And I looked up. And there was that young man again—the Italian anesthesiologist. And he had a bouquet of flowers! And again, this struck me as very, very amusing. Mario. His name was Mario. He was from a titled family in Italy, and he’d only been in the U.S. for a short period of time. It was the beginning of a funny friendship. He met Mark’s father. He was a typical mad Italian driver. He had these Italian sports cars and got into frequent accidents. Mark’s father, who had recently graduated from law school and was clerking for a judge at the time, would help this Mario with the legal ramifications of all his numerous car accidents. It was clear that he liked the way I looked and liked the way I spoke…that he thought I was a cut above the typical people he saw…When I look back, these aren’t things I’m particularly fond of—that kind of class snobbery and being such a big flirt. Anyway, it was a week’s stay in the hospital in those days—that was just the protocol then. And there I was, this thin, fragile-looking girl, but I was strong. I’d walk around and stand in front of the nursery window. And I could always immediately tell which cart he was in—those skinny, naked, red legs. They’d bring the baby every four hours to be fed, bottle-fed—I didn’t nurse. His circumcision was scheduled for the last day that week—the bris with a mohel. And I was extremely anxious about that on every level. I’m very concerned about cleanliness. The idea of some old geezer with his own equipment filled me with foreboding. But I was reassured by Harry Gerner, the pediatrician, and by my parents and my in-laws. I had another issue, though. I have very serious problems with clotting. I have a genetic inability to clot properly and almost died getting my tonsils out when I was ten. I had massive hemorrhaging. So I demanded that before they even think of performing Mark’s circumcision, they get a clotting time done. I insisted on it. And they did. And it was normal. And they had the bris, in a special room. I don’t remember if I was wearing clothes or my robe. And all the grandparents were there. And it all went perfectly well. And the next day we went home. I can regale you with all the ensuing milestones—at ten days, he raised his head and rolled over; at six weeks, he giggled; at about five months he could crawl backwards, shake his head no, and play hide-and-seek; he stood up all alone and got his first teeth at six months; at six and a half months he stood up all alone holding on to the crib; he took his first steps holding on to his playpen at seven months; he said his first word, Da-da, at eight months, and walked all by himself at eleven months; his favorite toys were a set of colored disks on a chain and a stuffed fuzzy cocker spaniel that his uncle Richie gave him—because I dutifully recorded all of this critical information in a white satin–bound baby diary, in which I also inscribed the following account of his first birthday: “Mark had a birthday party on Sunday the 6th of January, and we took movies of him and all the family. Both Grandmas and Grandpas, Great-Grandmas and Great-Grandpas were there, and his aunts and uncles too. He received beautiful gifts, put both fists in the cake, cried at the company, and later in the evening ‘performed’ for them and for the camera.”

By the following year, 1958, we’d moved to an apartment complex, a middle-income co-op, called College Towers, in the Greenville section of Jersey City. Mark was a toddler, two years old. And one afternoon, we were, uh, sitting outside in a sort of semicircular area of plantings out in front of our building. It was a new building and there were benches there, and it had to have been springtime or early summer because, for some silly reason, I even remember what I was wearing. I was sitting there with him, and I was in shirtsleeves. I had on the style of the day, for sportswear—sort of man-tailored stuff, you know, very preppy—you wore Bermuda shorts, and they didn’t have a crease pressed in, they had a crease sort of stitched in, and khaki, and, um, loafers. I guess they were penny loafers. You put a dime in—I forget why. And a blue man-tailored shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a button-down, and that was sort of the style of the time for college girls and for, um, well-dressed young women. I was sitting there, long hair in a ponytail, feeling very happy and proud of him, my beautiful, wonderful, amazing boy, and happy with the weather and so on, and all of a sudden a little truck drove up, really small, and attached to the back of it was a slightly larger, uh, sort of little caboose thing, and on it was a small merry-go-round, a little gadget that just sort of went in a circle. And when I looked at it, the first thing I thought of was Boy, that’s an awfully small circle to be going around in. There were other mothers out there, and other kids playing with each other, and they all heard…the little truck played a tune, I think. There was some way for everyone to know what it was, and what it was for…And the older children ran for it, and then the little kids like Mark. And the moms walked toward it, and people were getting on and paying, and he said to me, very clearly to me, that he wanted to get on, and I said, “Oh, okay, sweetie, we’re going to do that right now.” And the guy from the truck—the guy who operated the merry-go-round—said hello to me, and, um, I said hi back, and I was much more interested in putting Mark in safely. There were a couple of kids already on it. I put you in the little seat, and I was trying to figure out how to hook the little belt on you, and I see the guy go to sit in the front of the car and start something, and I started to say—whatever I said to him: “Uh, hey mister, sir, wait just a minute, just a minute or two please, I’m just putting him in,” and he kept saying things like “That’s okay, honey, that’s okay, girlie, you can have a ride.” And I kept saying, “No, you don’t understand, no, I need to get off. This is my little boy. I’m just putting him on.” And he started it. The music was starting, and he was still saying that—“All right honey, all right girlie.” And all I could think of was that I was going to be dizzy and probably throw up. And one could say I talked myself into it, but the truth is I know my nature, and I knew I couldn’t do that, and the circle was so small I knew nothing good was going to come out of that for me. And he thought—I don’t know why I’m so sure of this, but I am—he thought that I was the babysitter. I was dressed like a teenager, and he thought I was a teenager, and what was I anyway—twenty-three years old, so…And I just kept saying to him, “Can you stop it now? And then you’ll start it again.” And he kept saying, “That’s okay honey, that’s all right girlie, you can, uh, it’s all right, it’s a free ride for you.” And when it ended, and I took Mark off there, the world was still going round and round for me, and I was so nauseous and so dizzy. And he had had such a good time, and he did not want to go inside with me. He wanted to go on that ride again. But I had to take him inside, and I had to go lie down for a few minutes, because to that guy I might have been girlie and honey and it was okay, but it was pretty awful for me. So, that’s the story of the merry-go-round. I usually think of myself as a very friendly, gregarious person, but thank the heavens, I never saw that man again. The people who lived directly below us—we were on the second floor of our building, they were on the first—were from somewhere in New York, and she had a very definite Brooklyn or Bronx accent, and they were not particularly educated people. They were working-class people, and I think she worked, and she became very friendly. Um, I was…as I said, I tried to be friendly with everyone, but I wasn’t looking to, y’know, have relationships where I was obligated to spend time with other people. I felt very keenly my responsibility for my little boy, and my desire was to spend as much time as possible with him. But it was all very pleasant and cordial with my neighbors, and there were no true problems, except with this woman downstairs, who I thought was very warm and loving and friendly to me, but who behaved very badly. Mark was usually up very early in the morning. He was never a great sleeper, never ever, never ever. And just when I thought I had it made—that we had gotten past getting up during the night—he would get, um, a runny nose or his schedule would be off, because we went on a holiday or something, and we’d start sort of all over again. He spoke very early, and he spoke very clearly, and I would hear “Mommy,” and it could be the middle of the night, and I would come in and talk to him and sometimes get him, and, um…This time in particular that I’m thinking of, he had his first real cold, and I know that he was then I guess either three and a half or four because he went to the, uh, Jewish Community Center, to the nursery school, and that was the first experience he had had with a real infection from the other kids, ’cause otherwise he was pretty much protected from that kind of thing, and, to tell you the truth, there were many times that I decided not to send him. Either he wasn’t better from a sniffle or Harry Gerner, his pediatrician, whom I called Uncle Harry, and who was my father’s best friend, and who had also been my pediatrician, would say to me, “Must he go there?” Because Mark would almost invariably get ear infections after he had a cold. So, it was a very sort of divided-up experience. He didn’t go regularly as I had expected him to, because of all these other things. But to get back to that dark-haired lady downstairs…when he did get better from whatever thing he’d had that interrupted his night’s sleep, he clearly didn’t want to go back to the habit of just hanging out in the crib or in the bed, and he would call me or he would come into the bedroom, and I would, I finally had to…Uncle Harry said, “You’ve got to put an end to this, you can’t just keep getting up with him. You can’t keep letting him know that he can do that to the two of you. You’re the grown-ups.” But the idea of letting him cry was not something I was happy with at all. But I would go in and…there were no books on the subject the way there are now, like the Ferber method, Ferbering, whatever it’s called. I would come in, and I would talk to him, and I would say, “I’m not coming back now, I’ve been in here three times, I’ve been in here four times, it’s the middle of the night—look outside, see, it’s very dark out and your father is asleep, and everybody in the building is asleep, and I was asleep, and now I’m going to go back to sleep.” And then sometimes I would come back in just one more time, and then finally I just realized I had to do it. And I let him cry. And he cried and he cried. And he called me and he called me and he cried. And it just made me heartbroken. But I knew that that one night was the night where I had to give it a try. And I would speak out to him every once in a while and say, “No, I’m not coming back, honey. In the morning, we’ll talk, and in the morning, we’ll go into the living room,” etc. So she—the woman downstairs—called me the next day, and she let me have it. She said I was guilty of child abuse and she was going to call the police because I let my child scream all night. And she was right downstairs, and the sound could be heard. And it started the second night again, and then, about the middle of the night, he gave up. But she never forgave me, never forgave me for that, and that’s when I realized that those kinds of casual friendships are just made, not because you really care about those people or you choose them because your interests are the same, but because you’re sort of thrown together. And she was mostly a liar because she was not that worried about him, that’s nonsense; she was worried about losing sleep, and she figured the way to not have that happen was to threaten me with something. Child abuse?! Can you imagine someone having the temerity to even insinuate such a thing? I simply adored Mark. There was nothing I wouldn’t have done to make him happy and comfortable. I made sure that his crib was spotless and beautiful, that his bed was spotless and beautiful, that his room was lovely. I was fanatical about that. To a fault, actually. I had this carpet sweeper, and it had a mechanism inside that turns, that went around like this…and Mark must have either moved his hand at that moment or I was just being clumsy and an idiot for having it out…Why did I have to carpet-sweep while he was playing there, why? Something must have just broken or spilled or a box of crackers fell down or something of that sort and of course being me, I just was going to get rid of it right away, and all of a sudden his little hand was there and I rode over one of his fingers and caught it there. It was caught in there. I remember that trying to get it out was horrific, and he was screaming in pain, and it might have even been his whole little hand that was caught in there. But one finger was looking very damaged and purple. And I ran with him into the bathroom, and I know that what I did to him hurt like anything, but I put it under the cold water, and I kept rubbing it and trying to keep it straight and trying to see if there was a broken bone or anything in it. And I felt like I was doing that for hours while he was screaming, but it actually couldn’t have been for more than a few minutes. And then I dried it off and patted it, and he was still very, uh…he was still in great pain. He was in real pain. I don’t remember going to the doctor. I remember calling Uncle Harry, Harry Gerner. He asked some questions about whether Mark could move his fingers, and I made him, once we could get the pain under some control, uh, I made him move his fingers then, because if anything had been broken…I don’t know what they do about something like that anyway, whether they set it or what…Ugh! Ugh! How horrible! I still think about it! Anyway, as I mentioned before, Mark was never a great sleeper and typically he’d be up by five thirty or six in the morning, and, uh, we would have breakfast and talk to each other, and he’d look at his books and, depending on the age, sometimes I would read to him, and then a little later, when he really memorized, he would look at them himself and he would read some of them back to me. And we would talk about what we were going to do during the day, and if it was a bad day or wintertime or rain or whatever, we would decide whether we were going to stay in or go out or, um, if we were going to, in fact, walk over to Nana Harriet’s or go to the supermarket which was right near there, or go out to play in front of the building where there would be other kids, or the myriad other things that would be on the agenda. Sometimes his father would come and pick us up and bring us to Nana Rose’s house, but mostly the days went along with just the two of us…And it was a delightful, heavenly time for us. Until my second pregnancy. The period during which I was pregnant with my second baby was a very difficult time for me. It was a very difficult pregnancy with a very tragic outcome. I was feeling really terribly ill most of the time and I tried to not let Mark know. He was still a very little boy. And I don’t really even know how much he was aware of then, because I never really asked him in the years following that. I didn’t want to bring it up again—first of all, it was still painful to me, because we didn’t have a baby to bring home and, um, I didn’t want to discuss that time over and over again. I felt guilty because, for a number of months during the pregnancy, I had to have him in the care of my mother, and I just was so ill…My doctor this time wasn’t Schneckendorf, the doctor who’d delivered Mark, it was a different man, it was this guy who was very popular with all the young mothers…I don’t remember his name maybe because I don’t want to. He had a reputation for keeping people well sedated so there was no pain, or as little as possible, and I thought, well, I could use that because I was in labor for so long with Mark that I thought, well, that’s sort of dumb of me to, you know, to go looking for that kind of thing again, this would be much better. And then, um, feel good, feel strong, blah-blah-blah. Well nobody knows about these things and how they’re going to happen, but it turns out that this man did every single thing that he could…put it in another way—everything he did was the wrong thing. When I was throwing up constantly and I couldn’t hold anything down in the very beginning of that pregnancy, he clapped me in the hospital. Because he thought he was going to snap me out of this thing. I think he was obviously a misogynist, and he obviously thought this was like a spoiled-girl reaction to being pregnant. You know? That, uh, if I had more to do…that’s what many men said about this, y’know, if you had more to think about…So he clapped me in the hospital and gave me something called Thorazine, which gave me a reaction that was written about in the New England Journal of Medicine. I couldn’t stop my arms from shaking, my voice was way up like this,


On Sale
Nov 29, 2016
Page Count
256 pages
Back Bay Books

Mark Leyner

About the Author

Mark Leyner is the author of the novels Gone with the Mind; The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack; My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist; Et Tu, Babe; and The Tetherballs of Bougainville. His nonfiction includes the #1 New York Times bestseller Why Do Men Have Nipples?, and he cowrote the movie War, Inc. Leyner currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

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