The four of us ate breakfast together at Cracker Barrel. I love Cracker Barrel because they have fireplaces and they burn real wood and they have the best greens I’ve ever tasted. I ordered chicken and greens and the other guys ordered whatever it is they ordered and the conversation went like this:
Joe: . . .and what the fuck happened with Jay? He said he gained thirty pounds? In. . .what? Three months?
Paul: That’s what happens. Happened to me.
Joe: But you lost. . .
Paul: Fifty pounds.
Joe: Fifty pounds? How much do you weigh now?
Paul: Two hundred.
Joe: That’s what I weigh.
Paul: I pissed DC off. Now I weigh less than him.
This is how it went. I learned that DC weighs just over two hundred and he wants to weigh one eighty. Paul wants to get down to about that. I also want to get down to about that. We all want to weigh one eighty. Conor didn’t say anything, but I happen to know he weighs two hundred as well. But he’s only nineteen years old so he doesn’t count. The waitress is an old woman with black hair who keeps rubbing my back when she asks how everything is. When she tells me about the Coca Cola cake, she pushed her entire torso against my side and then moved up and down against me. I kept thinking it was unintentional, but I don’t think it was. “It’s the best cake I’ve ever had!” she said as she rubbed against me.
“Yes! It doesn’t belong in this world! It belongs in. . .some other world!”
I let this one go. I ordered the cake. When she left, I rubbed my eyes. The other guys laughed.
“She doesn’t know you’re gay,” says DC.
This turns the discussion to how gay I am. And how much time I spend under my boss’s desk. And how gay my hat is. And how, due to my gayness, I voted for Obama and listen to NPR. The subject of potato chips comes up and I say I don’t like barbeque. But I do like vinegar and sea salt. DC says I like vinegar and sea salt because it tastes like dick. And I say how does he know. And he says, “Well, that’s what mine tastes like anyway.” Which is a good one and we all laugh. This is the high point of our discussion.
All of us in the older generation talk about how sad it is that the young people don’t talk to one another anymore. Don’t they know how important it is to talk to one another? But do they? Do they talk to one another? No. They sit all alone and fuck around with their phones or computers or video games. Don’t they know what kind of stunningly interesting conversations they could be participating in?
Conor and I don’t talk much all the way home. I’m listening to a book on CD: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I don’t like the book so far. It seems to be about mean little people talking about mean little things. Conor asks two questions on the two hour drive. “What do they grow out here?” was one. “Corn and soy beans mainly,” I say. I can’t remember the second question.
They say a winter storm is on its way. Actually, what they say is, “A winter storm slams the Midwest.” They always use these ridiculously active verbs the same way sportscasters do. “The Clippers dunked the Pistons; the Lakers ripped the Celtics.” “That really makes me angry,” said my father from his kitchen in Vermont. “What makes you angry?” “When people say stupid things like that. Just use a bunch of stupid words that don’t mean anything.” “It’s always been that way.” “But it bothers me more now,” he says. “Maybe because you have so much time to think about it,” I say.
No work today. I called in. No work. Just hang in there. We’ll see if anything comes in.
I check my email. I take a bath and read the galley of a new book by Alexander Maksik, A Marker to Measure Drift. It’s a book about a woman from Liberia who is homeless. Wandering along black beaches. Living in a cave. In an abandoned house. Always haunted by the ghosts of her mother. Her sister. Her father. Her lover. No longer with her now. So much time to get hungry. To eat or not eat. To sleep. To remember. It’s the most beautiful book. I read it all alone, my family off to work or school. When I get hungry, I go for lunch at a small Mexican place called Cactus. I know the owner. I’ve known him for years. He’s happy to see me. But then, he’s happy to see everyone. At least that’s how he acts. The traffic moves past. The temperature outside is in the low twenties. Pretty warm compared to what it’s been. It always warms up before it snows. I call my parents before my tamale comes. My father tells me how much he hates weathermen.
Having the entire day free, I stop in at Café Crema, a coffee shop where I can write and listen to music. But I don’t want to write. I get online and send Alexander Maksik an email. I tell him I’m reading his book. I tell him I have the day off. I'm imagining what it would be like to have every day off. “What the fuck do you writers DO all day?!” I write. I check Facebook: A Degas – three ballerinas. Or is it one ballerina in motion? A Timothy Bickerton. A black-and-white photograph of an outhouse in the dead of winter. An article about Oscar Pistorius. A Soviet propaganda poster about how to hang Soviet propaganda posters. A 1945 photograph of a stripper posing with a ventriloquist dummy. A pulp fiction cover: The Alcoholics: a constipated guy hugs a bedpost while a sexy nurse poses seductively with a 40 oz. beer. A personal note from my brother-in-law, Dan, about how his son says hello to my special needs son in school and is proud of it and nobody teases him. I write Dan back. I wish Kate, my sister-in-law a happy birthday. A photo of the great Nina Simone. I listen to Nina Simone, who would have been 80 today. I listen to Sade. I listen to a clip about the time Jimi Hendrix came onstage when Cream was playing and blew everyone away. And then a clip on Eric Clapton recalling Jimi after he died, just a few days before having bought him a left-handed guitar and never getting the chance to give it to him. Then a clip on Les Paul wanting to sign Hendrix but not knowing his name or how to reach him and finally being told (in error) that Hendrix had died in a fire and not seeing him again until, four years later, he was the #1 seller in England. Robbie Robertson on meeting Hendrix. Jeff Beck on meeting Hendrix. Joni Mitchell on Hendrix. Paul McCartney plays a tune by Hendrix. A few tunes by Hendrix. The caffeine kicking in now. Feeling better now. The traffic passes by. Cold outside. But not as cold as it was. Ready for snow now. School letting out early, says someone on Facebook, and not one flake of snow has fallen. The ‘80s are laughing their asses off. And here we all are. Reading articles about Socrates. Reading articles about what they’re calling “another shooting spree” in LA. I wonder if this would make my father angry. The Celtics lost to the Lakers. And now, having extinguished every excuse, I begin to write. Because there’s nobody to talk to. All I have is every author who has ever written a word. Every guitarist who has ever played a riff. Every impressionist. Every painter. Almost every person I know or know of. People who share interesting things. Whose birthday it might be. Whose child might attend school with my child. Every poet. The answer to any question on grammar. Or refrigeration. An account of every naval battle in history. The Monitor. The remains found. Still in uniform. And when I get tired of talking to Paul and DC, stimulating as their conversation might be. And I want to listen to Jimi Hendrix, I can do that. Sometimes, I know where my father is coming from, even though I told him he was a crotchety old bastard. But I get it. Sometimes I get tired of bullshit. I just want someone to tell me the way it is. I even enter it into my search engine. “Tell me the way it is.” And I get a song by Landon Pigg called The Way it Ends. the singer sings, “This is the way it ends. Don’t tell me it’s meaningless. There’ll be no compromise. We fall and we too shall rise.” The video: Graveyards. Meadows. It’s a pretty damned good song. And I think this is what we’re capable of. No stupid talk. No stupid conversation. This is what we are capable of. This painting. This song. A Marker to Measure Drift. This is what we can do when we spend some time alone. With other people.