Issue 015: We Were Gods
(We Were Children)
20 June 2012
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.”
“I desire the things which will destroy me in the end.”
• • •
Maurice Sendak died last month. He was a writer and illustrator of children’s books.
Like many of you, I was acquainted with Sendak’s work because at an early age I had read Where the Wild Things Are. My grandmother bought it for me. I loved it dearly.
When I heard the news of his passing, I didn’t think too much about it. But then I didn’t really know much about Maurice Sendak other than he had a dark sense of humor, and that he was good at drawing monsters. I simply felt sad that he was gone.
• • •
Last week at work I was looking for something to listen to on NPR. I decided on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross”. I had recently listened to Gross’s interview with Paul McCartney, and found it mesmerizing and hilarious and wonderful, as many of her interviews tend to be. I wanted something in the same vein.
On this day, out of all the interviews I could have chosen from, I decided to listen to the one I thought I would understand the least: It was her interview with Maurice Sendak. Or rather it was more a compilation of several interviews over the course of twenty years or so, with highlights from each. It was put together to celebrate his life on the day he died.
In the interviews, he of course talked about his books, and about his life. He talked about the way children were fearful of him when their parents made them approach him for autographs—something he didn’t really like doing. He thought adults were boring and almost monstrous creatures, and knew that children realized that, too.
His interviews from the eighties and early two-thousands are generally upbeat and fast-paced. Maurice Sendak could be witty one moment and dark the next. He could be talking about the creative process, and then somehow segue into World War II and the Holocaust. I was captivated. I don’t know how I got anything done that day.
Maurice Sendak said, more or less, that he only created when he felt he needed to say something. All of his works were intensely personal, whether anyone realized it or not.
I thought, “My God, good for him. I do that, too.”
• • •
And then the program brought us to September 2011, which was the last time Terry Gross interviewed him. His news book, Bumble-ardy, had just come out. It was a few days after 9/11.
Maurice was too feeble to come to the studio, so he talked to Terry over the phone. He sounded deflated and ancient and sad. By the end of it, I nearly lost it. My eyes were outlined in red, and were quivering in their sockets. I took my headphones off and told my co-workers that I was close to crying. I told them I had been shaken to the core.
And when I put my headphones back on, Maurice said something that knocked the wind out of me:
“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. . . . What I dread is the isolation. . . .There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”
And when he said it, his grief was palpable. A knot formed in my throat. I couldn’t swallow.
This was a brilliant and immensely talented artist saying good-bye to the world. With the publication of his last book, he had said all he needed to say. He was ready for oblivion, even then.
I bowed my head and called him my brother. The world had lost a saint.
Good-bye, Mr. Sendak.
• • •
This is Issue 015 of the Starsailor Newsletter, which is exactly halfway to Issue 030, and . . . a long way off from Issue 100. Are you awake? Are you alive? Let’s try to do this, if we can. Now get up, and dust yourself off. There is work to be done.
• • •
When we last left me, I was a miserable mess. I said, if you’ll recall, that I felt my medication was gradually becoming ineffective, or at least unreliable, and that the tides of sadness could be kept out no longer. The barrier was broken; things were falling apart again.
I’m happy to report that’s not entirely the case. I don’t feel so bad right now. I feel all right.
But who knows. One of the most frustrating parts of being bipolar is never really knowing how you’re going to feel from one moment to the next. This is an overused and rather drab way to illustrate this, but it really is like flicking a light switch.
And I don’t know if it’s the medication or just plain old me that inhibits me from feeling pure and total joy. Maybe I just can’t do it. Everything has a dark lining to me. I find faults in everything. I don’t let myself feel happy. In fact I think it scares me—happiness does.
Is anhedonia my affliction? Is that a real thing?
• • •
May was something of an eventful month, as far as months for me, these days. My mother and grandmother visited at the beginning of the month, and they stayed in a lemon-colored bed and breakfast a few blocks down from me. I showed them Zilker Park and Hyde Park. I showed them the skyline and the downtown area. They seemed pleased with the city that is now my home. And then they left. It was a short trip.
Yes, and then my father came in the middle of the month. He stayed with us for about a week. He came, he later told me, because he missed me so much. I told him, “Dad, I have missed you too.” We had both missed one another.
And my father did all kinds of things during his Texas sojourn, like mow the lawn and vacuum and wash my car and buy Christmas lights for the living room, so we could string them up and create a magical sort of place at night . . .
He made me watch this phenomenal movie called Little Big Man, which stars Dustin Hoffman. I groaned when I found out it was a Western. I winced when I found it was from the 70s. But it ended up being a really weird and funny and sad movie. What prompted me to actually sit down and watch it was my father’s teasing. He told Jason, “You know, one day when I’m gone, Ryan is going to really regret not watching this movie with me.” So I watched it. It shocked the hell out of him, because it’s difficult to get me to do anything I don’t want to do.
So that was a nice thing. I’m glad I won’t someday regret not watching that with him. I really do mean that.
• • •
Steph Malpass visited as well. She stayed in San Antonio, which I had warned her was kind of a rotten place to go. I told her I had seen a Deer Tick show there weeks prior. I told her, also, that it was the second time I had ever seen John McCauley play a guitar with his penis. It was the only good memory I had of San Antonio.
“But really,” I went on, “that place is such a damn hole.”
She didn’t believe me. She said the Alamo made it all worthwhile. I’m glad she found a shred of happiness in a city I consider to be utterly mundane. Everyone knows Austin is way better.
As Chantal always tells me, the only people who like San Antonio are old people, and that’s because they like the River Walk.
I called my father the other day to tell him I’d been to San Antonio. I asked him just why the heck anyone would want to go there. I asked this knowing he had a trip planned there for July.
“Ryan,” he said, “I honestly don’t know.”
“You don’t know why you’re going to San Antonio?”
“Well, I thought maybe Karen and I could do the River Walk . . .”
• • •
I’m not home alone right now, but I wish I was. I wish I could sling my Jag-Stang around my chest and play some chords, and scream into a microphone, and get drunk and feel real lousy. But if I did that right now, Jason would walk into the room, half-asleep, rubbing his eyes, and complain that I was being too loud. He’d tell me he has to work tomorrow, and I would say, “Me too, you know.”
• • •
I’ve been drunk almost every night for the last seven days, because Ayesha is in town, and Ayesha drinks a lot. Or rather we both drink a lot in each other’s presence. I don’t know.
And I’ve deviated from Lone Star a few times, which is a weird thing. I’ve drunk a few margaritas, for God’s sake. What am I?
I’m definitely not a budding alcoholic, that’s for sure. At least I don’t think so. But maybe that’s just what budding alcoholics say.
• • •
There was a gathering at my home several nights ago. It was the most fun I’ve had in maybe five years. It was also the first time I had ever thrown a real, God’s honest “party”—although I would consider it more of an elevated soiree, whatever that means. There was food, so that’s something. That somehow makes it less sinful.
Yes, and quite a few people arrived to see my home, and to talk to me, and to meet new friends and swill down alcoholic beverages while eating cream-cheese-stuffed jalapeño peppers. After a certain number of alcohol had been consumed, some of them even danced in my kitchen. I thought that was terrific.
I myself could be found in the orbit of dancing bodies a number of times—you see the snack table was next to the sink, which is where everyone was gyrating and so forth. But I never did actually dance. Instead I dipped broccoli and baby carrots into a big container of cilantro and jalapeño hummus and felt really weird about existing. That was fun in itself.
Also, it would appear we had a thing for jalapeños that night.
I was very excited to see John Gaustad and Harrison Stoneseifer. They had driven all the way from Houston for brotherhood and easy living, which was what I had to offer that night.
Ayesha was there, too. She was, as I have said, in town for various reasons. One of those reasons, I think, is because she loves me.
In fact I hope everyone at the party loves me in some form or another.
Everyone except the “bath salts” guy—whom I will not name, because I actually really like the guy, and I don’t want to embarrass him. But really, I don’t think he could have loved anyone in the state he was in.
That guy was scaring everyone to death.
• • •
A word on the “bath salts” guy: A person—something of a mutual acquaintance—showed up at my house high on what we believe was methadone, and proceeded to terrify party-goers by promising to eat their faces.
And hey, as I said, I like this guy! Though, when he grabbed my shoulders and slobbered in my face, and said he wanted to eat that face, I began to wonder just what in the hell I’m ever really doing, anyway. I felt bad about myself because of that.
Throughout the night, I would come to hear the words “bath” and “salts” and “eat” and “face” a few dozen times. Invariably the conversations would end with this question, which was a good question to ask, indeed: “Who is that guy, anyway?”
Listen: If you were there, I’m sorry. That guy is actually a pretty decent one, as far as guys go.
Maybe methadone just makes you a weird dude for a few hours.
• • •
I was, of course, roaring drunk for all of this. I would set an empty Lone Star can down, and another one would be handed to me, for the beer was seemingly endless that night. “Ryan—” the other person would say, “please drink this with me.” And I would nod and say, “Yes, yes, sure.” And then it was down the hatch, so to speak, and a wave of heat would rush over my face, and I would realize right then, for just that moment and none others, that maybe I really was dreaming, and maybe I was dead—and if this was death, I was OK with it, and would never fight back. The song would stop, and someone would shout out the name of another one, and the lights would go out, and there we were in the dark of the room, in the dark of our minds, lit up by a laptop monitor and a string of Christmas lights, whose glow permeated this room and that one by way of a doorless frame. Bodies shook and turned wildly, radiated by smiles which never ceased.
Flush with confidence, and brimming over with love long kept out of light, I said many wonderful sentences to many wonderful friends. The shield of glaciers had subsided, had sunk to the bottom of the sea somehow, and I could make out the faint glimmers of hope scrawled across the kitchen ceiling, which flashed and cracked and sputtered to the beat of a song I had never heard before. “Let me out!” cried something inside, the synapses flaring, and so I grabbed both sides of my chest with shaking arms, and ripped open the doors of flesh which had kept friends and lovers alike feeling spurned for so many years. All was rotten, but I cleaned it up. All was ash, but I brought it back to life.
“Come with me,” said a small voice, and I was quickly escorted to the backyard, for there were many other friends to speak to and love and hug and kiss and so on. Timing was everything. My feelings had only temporarily escaped.
• • •
I remember complete darkness, and yet I remember the flash of stars in the sky. I remember moonlight on my skin. Everything was frozen white and ethereal. I slung Jason’s acoustic guitar over my shoulder and serenaded my friends Karina and Javier as they held one another in something resembling a lovers’ embrace. I strummed G and then D and then G and then C—and then quickly G, D and G. I was insane-drunk, and the world before me was warped and caving in on itself. But I kept playing that guitar until someone summoned me back to the inside world, for there was more dancing to excuse myself from, and more time to be spent elsewhere for reasons I couldn’t understand.
Always, always I was whisked away when the mood was settling in its final resting place. Thank God for that, I think now—that may have been such a drag, to feel one way and not another, or another, or another.
Thank God for that.
• • •
Towards the end of the night, I found myself sitting in a velvet emerald-green chair in my living room, electric guitar balanced on my knee, belting out “Ashamed” and “Goodnight Irene” and, my God, even “Creep” (with Jason Long on guitar).
“Creep” was somehow amazing. I don’t even really like the song, and yet there we were, the lot of us, screaming at the top of their lungs during the chorus. It was one of those rare, fabled moments where electricity shoots down your spine, and you say to yourself, meekly, “I think I might be happy right now.” And then you cover it with a layer of dirt and keep it a secret from the world.
• • •
By four in the morning, I was walking down Hemphill, near Spider House and Guadalupe Street. It was lit up with Christmas lights, which shone upon the road like scattered florescent candy. Chantal was there—and so was Harrison and my new best friend/little brother Jackson. My head was humming and the road began to sway, but onward we went in the direction of Pearl Street, which is where Jackson had lived and would live for another seven days. He was leaving Austin forever, because microscopic things which float in the air were working against his body, and had been working against his body since the day he was born. We were all a little sad about that.
I don’t remember what happened next . . . but the smears in my mind resemble this: A hug and handshake with Jackson, and Harrison’s sandal crash-landing in a pile of dog shit, and a hot and humid co-op house where Chantal lives. Yes, and there are fragments of memories here and there which remind me, gently, that I took off my pants, and felt my aching head with a free hand, and that I clumsily scaled the wooden ladder leading to a lofted bed.
And then it was lights out. Good-night, Ryan. So long.
• • •
Quite miraculously, the next day I was without all the usual post-alcohol afflictions. There was no headache, no dry mouth—not even an achy, wobbly, rubbery, gross-feeling stomach. I had successfully consumed enough water the night before. I had, even in my most far-gone state, drank twelve ounces of water for every twelve ounces of beer. Hooray for me, I thought.
I did, however, suffer from post-party depression (PPD). One of the best nights in recent memory was over. All I could do was sleep in until one or two in the afternoon and pray that the next day of work would be as easy as pie.
Who knows what Monday ended up being like. Hell, I can’t even remember what happened after I woke up that Sunday. A sullen and joyless day, for sure.
• • •
I have just gotten up to shave my face. It had been some time since I last went through with it—since I last put razor to flesh and scraped away unwanted little black hairs.
I cut myself on accident.
Which reminds me: It has been nearly one year since I last cut myself on purpose. You didn’t hear? Those were bad times. Those times are over now, I hope.
Yes, and it has been one year since my life was taken away from me in the time it takes to whisper, “You dumb animal, you.” It seems like it has been an eternity, and yet also it feels as though it has been no time at all.
I’m sticking with “it feels like an eternity,” though, because it has also been just shy of a year since I last saw my little baby cats.
I’m doing something about that, by that way. Did I not mention that, either?
I wouldn’t say too much until I know more. I don’t want to jeopardize the hope there is to get them back. That would be unwise of me.
It’s been a rough year.
• • •
A few weeks ago I was at some God damn Target off of Interstate 35. I was looking for flannel shirts at the start of summer in the middle of Texas. They didn’t have any. It wasn’t a huge surprise.
There were two women also looking for flannel shirts. They looked very familiar. I said, “You look very familiar,” to the one I recognized the most.
“Yes,” said the woman, “you look awfully familiar as well.”
“Were you at the Deer Tick show last month? And at the Delta Spirit show a few weeks before that?”
“God,” said the woman, “yes, I was!” The other woman jumped up and down excitedly. They pointed at each other and, in unison, had this to say: “We love Deer Tick!”
“Oh, man, me too,” I said. The first lady—the more recognizable one—she approached me with a happy bounce. She said, “May I hug you?” So I said “yes”. We hugged. We shared a nice little hug. The other woman approached me and did the very same. She rubbed my back and sighed in my ear.
“Let me show you something that’s going to really make you hate me,” I said. I pulled out my phone and showed them a picture that was taken at precisely midnight on New Year’s Eve, at the beginning of 2012. It was John McCauley, lead singer of Deer Tick, bent over on stage with his guitar hanging over his knee, my hands wrapped around his head, our lips touching.
The first woman pushed me away playfully. “God damn, you lucky fuck!”
“Nuh uh,” said the other woman. She held her hand up to her mouth. I had kissed their hero.
I told them I had to go buy toothpaste. I said good-bye. I said, “See you at the next show.”
In unison again they said this: “Definitely.”
I didn’t buy toothpaste. I went into the frozen food aisle and pretended I knew where I was.
• • •
Austin is like that, I’ve found. You see the same people everywhere. For instance, the other day I saw the wonderful-but-shallow Moonrise Kingdom, and the girl standing in front of me in line was the same girl I had seen at a Delta Spirit show at this shitty club called the Belmont. Those who have read my Diamond Rugs album-review-thing will know that I saw this same girl at the Lustre Pearl on Rainey Street several days later, during SXSW. I told her I had seen her before. She looked at me suspiciously, because she thought I was going to say inappropriate things, since that’s what men usually have to say to her. Instead I said something nice, and she let her guard down, and we become something resembling acquaintances, and nothing resembling friends.
I’m sure I will see her again. She’s not hard to miss: She has short, sleek red-purple hair. She is very small. Her ears are pierced. She doesn’t wear very much make-up.
She’s a beautiful girl, for sure.
At this very same theater, which was the Alamo Drafthouse off South Lamar—which is a movie theater that lets you drink beer and order whole pizzas—Chantal saw her friends Krista Norman and Carley McCaw. They had just seen Moonrise Kingdom.
Krista Norman had this to say about the movie: “Bill Murray as the dad was perfect.” I think I agree with this assessment.
So that was weird, but not too weird—seeing them at the theater. This kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s a good thing, yeah?
Now I can do a brief review of Moonrise Kingdom.
• • •
A film by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola,
who didn’t do very well as a writing pair when they wrote the dreadful Darjeeling Limited, which was quite bad, mainly because the characters were underdeveloped, two-dimensional, very unlikable rich white men trying to seek enlightenment by traveling through India by train—which lead me to believe Moonrise Kingdom might therefore be more of the same dumb schlock (but it wasn’t (for the most part (the characters were still kind of shallow (but I’ll get to that))))
★★★ (out of four)
Wes Anderson is probably an all right guy. We can surmise that, based on the all the photos of him with a little smirk on his face, he probably only brushes his teeth a few times a week. It also seems probable that he spends more time using a lint roller on his clay-brown corduroy suits than he does figuring out how to not have a terrible haircut.
He made a movie no one saw (Bottle Rocket), made another movie that everyone saw, and which was critically acclaimed and so good that no one will shut the fuck up about it (Rushmore), then he made a movie that I consider to be better than Rushmore for reasons I could write a one-hundred-page scholarly essay on (The Royal Tenenbaums), then a movie no one but me liked because they said it was “too quirky”, but one in which everyone clamors to make Halloween costumes based on (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), and finally a loathsome, vapid waste of time that is insultingly stale for reasons I have listed above (The Darjeeling Limited). Oh, and he made a children’s movie based on a Roald Dahl book that wasn’t as popular as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (The Fantastic Mr. Fox).
About The Fantastic Mr. Fox: I watched it, but the animation was really choppy and it made me half-sick. I don’t know why. It was kind of forgettable. What happened again? George Clooney is a crazy ol’ fox that snaps his fingers and whistles and pisses off some farmers? I don’t know. I read somewhere that the animators were slightly pissed off at Wes Anderson, because he barely did any “directing”, and would instead call the animation studio from his apartment in Paris and say, “Um, uh, can you, like, have the fox, uh, dig into the ground, or something? Thanks.” And then he would hang up the phone and comb his shoulder-length helmet-hair apathetically.
Basically, the dude has had a rough decade. As I said, no one liked The Life Aquatic for the same reason people don’t like a lot of things: 1) they’re afraid of new and colorful things and 2) maybe some people were put off by seeing Bill Murray in speedo.
I watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou every night for a month when it first came out on DVD. It’s all I could think about. Everyone else said it was shit. I’m sure a lot of people said that to Wes Anderson, too, because the movie only made half its budget back in ticket sales.
And then he made that fucking train movie. God.
So a lot of people, I’m sure, we’re telling Wes Anderson that, just because you, like, have a bunch of overhead shots of meticulously placed objects arranged not unlike an obsessive compulsive psychopath would lay things out, doesn’t mean it necessarily translates to a good movie.
When I think about The Darjeeling Limited, I picture Wes Anderson taking a shit on a film reel and, after pulling up his corduroy trousers, dusting off his hands before screaming, “ALL DONE, YOU GUYS.”
Something had to change, or no one was going to go see his weird, slightly-funny movies anymore.
So he made Moonrise Kingdom, which is about two twelve-year-old kids (a boy and a girl) who escape from their respective homes to feel each other up in the woods. Bill Murray drinks wine out of the bottle and carries an axe, and Bruce Willis wears pants that rise above his socks. There you go.
What shocked me, after seeing the movie, was realizing how much I had enjoyed it. I was fully prepared to hate it. I had seen the promising trailer—but then I had also see the promising Darjeeling trailer, which promised, through Adrian Brody’s pitifully sad eyes and a few Kinks songs, that everything was going to be OK. We know how that turned out.
And what made me suspicious was that basically everyone I knew was passing this Moonrise Kingdom trailer around everywhere. It popped up on a certain social networking website several dozen times, so I didn’t really know how to feel about it.
The trailer was so deceptively perfect that is almost terrified me. Everything was there: the beautiful color scheme (green, yellow, pink), the stellar ensemble cast, the typography, the music—and Edward Norton smoking a cigarette while ringing a bell. Shit, man! This might actually be good! I thought.
I am happy to report that, with the exception of the special effects, Moonrise Kingdom is largely without faults. It is a sweet tale of two star-crossed lovers knee-deep in puberty who just want to hang out and say “fuck you” to the adults in their lives. At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to know. It’s set in the 1960s. Go see it.
Listen: It’s a little shallow. I mean, it’s about kids, so maybe that’s why.
But there’s this scene late in the movie where Bill Murray’s character and Francis McDormand’s character, who are husband and wife, are lying in separate beds with the lights out. It’s an aerial shot—the camera is facing downwards over the beds.
Bill Murray utters a line, which I will try my best to reproduce here: “I wish the roof would blow off, and I’d be sucked into space.”
This may mean nothing to you, but I have said this exact sentence to every girlfriend I’ve ever had at least a thousand times.
And what do my girlfriends say in return? They say exactly what Francis McDormand says to Bill Murray: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
I wanted more of this. But maybe I’m just selfish.
Finally: During Anderson’s “Fresh Air” interview (which was a complete disaster—the man is severely inarticulate), he mentioned that a reporter at Cannes had described Moonrise Kingdom as a “memory of a fantasy”. I think that’s a pretty darn good description of it.
(I’m bad at writing reviews, but there you go.)
• • •
I have felt, lately, like a wolverine trapped inside a frozen pyramid—clawing my way out. Or maybe a mole. Or maybe a monkey with a shotgun duct-taped to its paws.
I have worn away the trails and forgotten the fields. I am utterly lost.
And I’ve been doing this test in my head to figure out who I love, and why I love them in the first place. It’s very simple. You’ve probably done it before, too.
Imagine someone in your life. Now imagine that they never want to talk to you again, or imagine that they’re dead. Do you miss them? How much? A lot? Can you live without their presence? No? OK, then I guess you love them.
As it turns out, I only love a handful of people, these days. What can you do?
• • •
This is not to suggest that I wouldn’t miss all the people I know. I most certainly would. But I’m talking about the four-letter word that begins with “l” (lowercase (this is crucial)). The scary word that means you actually have to do something when these same people get very upset and need help.
As it turns only, only a handful of people love me, these days. Oh, well. Maybe I don’t deserve much more than to be liked from a distance.
• • •
Another reason why I feel as though I’m trapped in a pyramid of ice: I have a full-time job.
Did you know it’s taken me a month and a half to write this stupid thing? What the heck?
Sure, I’m sitting on a whole other (nearly completed) Starsailor Newsletter, but Jiminy Christmas, I sure as hell have fallen asleep at the wheel recently. Or maybe I’ve just plain fallen asleep.
I go to bed at one a.m. these days, which really hurts my soul to think about. This is a guy who used to stay up until sunrise. You know the last time I saw a sunrise? The day before I started working a full-time job.
(My full-time job should be writing.)
As it stands, my full-time job is to edit manuscripts and play around in Adobe Photoshop all day.
And then I come home and I take a God damn nap, is what I do. I do this every single weekday. I feel like an . . . adult.
• • •
Don’t misunderstand me: I love my job. God’s honest, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
For shit’s sake, we get free breakfast tacos every Tuesday and Thursday. Breakfast tacos are a big flipping deal in Austin! It’s practically part of the culture. And we’re given them for free, for God’s sake.
And what about Mondays? Doughnuts. (I never partake (I don’t really care for doughnuts (I think they’re too sugary)).) Wednesdays? Bagels. Fridays? Any pastry you can imagine. One time I got this little sandwich that had cilantro and basil and diced tomatoes. It was really wonderful and made me feel like a million bucks at an hour in which I never feel good, which is ten a.m.
I work with really great people, too. I think some of them like me!
But damn, you know: Where is the adventure? Where is the danger?
I don’t have enough of either in my life. I’ve gotten stale. I’ve gotten rusty. I might be a boring person to talk to, if you talked to me right this very second.
• • •
I have plans to rescue myself from this sunken chamber of broken dreams. I say to the world, “Enough of this ennui!” (And here I wink at longtime reader Alex H.)
Even at this very moment, I am conspiring to abandon this painfully comfortable lifestyle for ten (10!) whole days. I will go to the city of Los Angeles with my cousin and business partner, John Blacksher, and we will see old friends and make new ones. I will even meet ol’ Alex, who, if you’ll recall, discovered my writing through the phrase I have placed between quotation marks in the preceding paragraph.
I have promised him we will eat food or—God help me—maybe even share an adult beverage or two. He has even invited me to sleep in his house. I might actually do that!
John tells me I am to meet a young woman named “Megan”, which is just as well, because I haven’t met one of those in a good while.
God, and then what? I haven’t the slightest idea. Maybe we will go places and see things and have fruitful experiences.
And thanks to Steph Malpass’s California-savvy advice, we will be taking a cheap train, run by Amtrak and called the “Pacific Surfliner”—straight up the coast. It will take nearly half a day. I plan to sit in the dining car and sip Arnold Palmers and work on Issue 017 or Issue 018 of this fine newsletter (we shall see how far I can get by then).
Maybe I’ll even work on that novel I’ve been toying around with.
Or maybe I’ll just sleep. God damn it, maybe I’ll just sleep.
• • •
Did I tell you I’m writing a novel? It’s in the planning stages. I have an enormous file on my computer called “novel ideas”, which is something of a joke. It’s a file full of ideas for my novel, but it’s also full of novel ideas. I don’t know why that made me laugh the first time. For shit’s sake, I don’t know.
Here is how I have pitched it to my mother, who will celebrate anything I write so long as I don’t talk about killing myself:
“I am writing a novel about sad, crazy people. The book is about a theocratic dynasty-monarchy that rules over the Eastern Province of the former United States of America. It has been around three hundred years since civilization collapsed—since doomsday. The kingdom is ruled by a manic-depressive, vegetarian, alcoholic, guitar-playing 80-year-old man named King Theodorus Cecilius von Hessel IX, or King Theo for short. He is six feet, seven inches tall—gaunt, pale, bony. He wraps himself up in imperial purple blankets and haunts his one-hundred-and-eight-room palace. He has seven sons named Lambert and Leon and Lars and Ludwig—and Otto and Theodore and Hector. Hector is the only one who loves him. He has an estranged wife, Zara, and an estranged daughter, Adelaide, who both live in his winter palace in New Montreal, far north.
Anyway, so, King Theo is depressed as hell. He’s tripolar, which means he’s either sad, catastrophically sad, or crazy. The citizens of his fair kingdom are also depressed, because there isn’t much to do, and because being human is embarrassing, and because it is eternal winter. So with the help of his advisers and senators and artists and scientists, he begins a second Renaissance of sorts. He does this to cheer up himself and everyone else. He orders the creation of a machine called the ‘Incurable Sadness Machine’—which aims to cure incurable sadness. He starts the Church of Loneliness. He opens ‘touching’ parlors, where people can feel human hands on their backs and heads and thighs and maybe their genitals.
Most of it fails. That’s why the book is going to be so funny. With the exception of the King, most everyone is going to be a complete moron. So it’s a farcical dramatic-comedy thing. It’s a picaresque epic fantasy. It’s stupid as hell.”
• • •
You might remember, if your memory isn’t so bad, that I once wrote something admittedly dumb called “The Gloom King Weeps”. It was Issue 013. I spent a long time on it. It was, for whatever reason, universally praised. It almost got as many emails as the first issue of the newsletter—the one in which I apologized for being so sad and crazy and possibly suicidal.
People were very generous with their adjectives. They said it was “amazing” and “incredible”. Some even said it was fun to read. One person said they “loved it”. I was genuinely shocked. King Theo was just a neat little character I had created in mind, and one I liked to pretend was me from time to time. And then I gave him a little back story, and made it into a newsletter proper, and, hey presto, he ended up being way more popular than his creator, who is me.
It’s easy to like King Theo, though. He’s old and funny and full of decades of regret. What’s not to love?
I have made him sadness incarnate. I have made him Depression: The Person.
Being insane and sad is still something of a taboo subject, even if it’s kind of funny for people who aren’t insane and sad (I’m guessing, here). For instance, I have this book called An Unquiet Mind, which my mother gave me by recommendation of my psychiatrist, Dr. Hyman (who is just one of many people who exist to keep me alive). I have yet to finish it—I really ought to—but this book is about going nuts and realizing you’re bipolar. How many of those exist? I sure as hell haven’t read many.
So I wanted to do something like that. I wanted there to be a huge novel with a main character who is a depressive. I want to write about a character who tries and tries and tries and fails, because hey, that’s life for you.
Maybe I’ll give him one victory, though. Maybe I’ll have a bolt of electricity shoot down his spine, and have him think to himself, meekly, “I might be happy right now.”
• • •
So: I will work on that son of a bitch during the long, long train ride from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
What happens in San Francisco? I wonder now. I really don’t know. I will see Tim Rogers and Zak “Delicious” McCune—and his lovely lady friend, and their three dogs. I can hardly wait.
And perhaps I will see Rae Bonfanti, who is living in the Bay Area for some time, the lucky girl. A few weeks ago I asked her jokingly, for I used a winking emoticon, that I would like to stay at her apartment. She took me seriously. She said she would have to check with her new roommates, whom presumably she had not yet met. That seemed like a decision a real grown-up would make. Were I in her shoes, and I hadn’t understood the winking emoticon to mean I was speaking in jest, I think I might have said “yes” anyway, even if it meant pissing off my soon-to-be housemates. I’m not sure why. I guess I’m just a playfully irresponsible person. I hope that’s endearing in some respects.
• • •
Yes, and I look forward to seeing her, because the last time I saw her was at nine in the morning on a Saturday, when I had to leave the house we were staying at to speak to my shrink about why I wanted badly to be dead. I didn’t tell Rae that. I just said “Good-bye!” and “It was nice to meet you!” and “Let’s be friends!” We hugged. It was a beautiful hug.
See: Rae was house-sitting for two successful university professors/authors. They had an enormous, wonderful home in the middle of Washington, D.C. I had taken Rae and her ex-boyfriend and her friend to Spa World, the Korean bathhouse I’ve been raving about for so long, the night before. We had a pleasant experience. I saw her ex-boyfriend’s penis. He didn’t see mine, because his glasses were too fogged up. Sorry about that, Jason.
We went back to the house because it was late, and because I was too tired to drive back to Baltimore, and because she had promised me ice cream. I ended up eating that ice cream, which was a chocolate-covered drumstick, right there in the kitchen, in the dark, and I think maybe I had the last one so she had a few bites of mine. I actually thought that maybe I might kiss her that night, just to be a cool dude, but I ended up sleeping on a couch in the living room instead because I thought that would be a better idea. Shucks! Maybe I should have just kissed her. What the hell.
• • •
I’ll see ol’ Rae, sure. I’ll hug her again. Maybe I’ll give her a kiss on the cheek and say, “Wow! Hello!”
And I will kiss Zak “Delicious” McCune, maybe—or I’ll kiss his dogs instead, provided they don’t bite my face off with their cute little teeth.
Tim Rogers would never in a million years let me plant one on his cheek. At least I don’t think so.
• • •
The last thing Tim Rogers said to me was this, late one night in Alameda, California, seconds before he rocketed away in a one-hundred-thousand-dollar car: “Move out here, man!”
• • •
I will spend three or four days in San Francisco, and then my dear cousin, who is called Ned, will come and scoop John and me up from the Bay Area and take us somewhere else, which is Davis, California—near Sacramento. Or is that technically Sacramento? I don’t know. It’s an hour away from San Francisco, wherever it is.
It is a nice place to be.
And then what, I don’t know! My aunt and uncle do this annual Western excursion by car, and so they will be in California at the same time I’ll be there. This was not an accident. They are traveling up Route 1, and then meeting us in Davis/Sacramento/whatever to have dinner and talk about all the wonderful things that will have happened on our respective journeys.
And then I’ll go home to my nine-thirty-to-four-thirty job and dream about all the avenues of happiness that have been denied to me.
• • •
“Move out here, man!”
• • •
I hope California puts a shock in my system. I hope it wakes me up and has me realize that everything might be OK, maybe, if I try hard enough.
I went there in March, if you’ll recall, for the very same reason. I will discuss it, more or less, in the next newsletter, which will be out next week, and which is mostly complete already. Hurrah!
Chantal told me recently that California is a sort of “frying pan to the face” for me. To wit: characters in movies are sometimes hit with a frying pan, and miraculously they remember everything, but then they get hit again and forget everything all over again. It made some sense when she said it.
What she was saying, I think, is that California did a lot for me last year in revitalizing my determination to Stay Alive, and when I went back in March, I kind of lost it again. It wasn’t California’s fault. I had a great time there. I hung out with (supposed) multi-millionaires and my bros Tim and Zak.
It was just bad timing, probably. It was my internal clock saying, “Help me, please—I think something is terribly wrong.”
The first time I went to California, I came home to find that my cats had been illegally removed from my apartment. Some tiny, childlike part of me wished that, maybe if I went there and came back again, they would show up again. Maybe time would unwind, and something magical would happen, and they would be waiting for me when I got home. That didn’t end up happening.
It couldn’t hurt to try again.
• • •
Tonight I have done everything a young man of my flavor could ever hope to accomplish in eight or so hours, which is to dine at a nice restaurant, take an hour-long, boiling-hot bath, read several chapters from a book, play a few songs on an acoustic guitar, and sit down and listen to Radio Mozart—a French radio station that only plays music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—while writing to his very best friends, who are lovely people, and who would be sorely missed, were they to ever disappear, which is to say they are loved.
It is time, I think, for me to lie down and dream of a melancholic king in his crumbling melancholic kingdom. It is time to shut my eyes on this world, so that I may open them again in the morning.
There is a strong wind blowing outside my window. Here’s hoping it rips the roof off my house. Here’s hoping I float out into space.
Here’s hoping no one is around to tell me to stop feeling sorry for myself.