On the way back from the post office, a woman pushing a shopping cart full of random stuff stopped me and asked for change. She said she wanted to buy some meat to go her bread. I gave her thirteen cents, which was all I had, and apologized for it.
“Every little bit helps,” she said, and offered me a hamburger bun.
My former neighbor, Barbara, back in the days when I lived in a so-called artist’s building (where no one, technically, was supposed to live), kept several enormous plastic bags of trash in her loft. The bags were on your left as you entered, stacked in a corner. For the longest time I didn’t know what was in them, but then one day Barbara stopped me in the hall and asked if I knew anyone who had a fireplace where she could burn some trash.
“Why don’t you just throw it out?”
“Because last year I was fined for illegally dumping trash on Cambridge Street. The police tracked me down by going through the bags and finding a bunch of mail with my name and address.”
“But I’ve seen you dumping trash,” I said. “We’ve even done it together a few times.”
“Yes, but none of that trash had my name on it.”
On the subway tonight I read the same book I always read: The Loser by Thomas Bernhard. It’s the only book I ever read all the way through, despite only reading it on the subway. I read five to ten pages at a time, depending how far I’m going. When I finish I return to the beginning and start again.
The book’s effect on me is like music. There’s little plot; it’s simply a man’s thoughts about his two closest friends, both of whom are dead. One is Glenn Gould. The other, the loser of the title, recently committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree a hundred yards from the home of his sister.
Years ago I enjoyed reading books – novels! – but no longer. Most seem so written. Descriptions, in particular, I find intolerable. The Loser contains no descriptions, or nearly none, which is partly why I love it.
A confession: I dog-ear the pages. And since I’ve been reading the book for so long, more than half the pages have little diagonal creases. Somehow this pleases me. There’s something to be said for loving something to the point of destroying it a little.
Unable to work any longer, I got into bed and slept. The covers were hot and stuffy, but I was too far gone to think of removing them. Then the phone rang and it was J. She said she felt like a switch inside her had been turned on.
“I have a love/hate relationship with the switch,” she said.
Later that night I dreamt that J said that the reason she’d been so distant was because I had mistaken her for someone else. Then she introduced to me to another woman, someone who did in fact resemble her. “This is the person you thought was me,” she said.
The woman merely smiled.
It occurred to me that the two women hadn’t necessarily told each other everything.
On the subject of notes left in strange places for desirable women, twelve years ago I stood in a kitchen at a party in Chicago with my friend Mickle, who wanted desperately to leave a note for the host of the party, a woman he had known, barely, in college, and who may have, he had recently learned, admired him back then, and who now lived with a man who was possibly her boyfriend.
We were drunk and were being pressured to leave by whoever was giving us a ride.
Mickle’s note, which he had scribbled in great haste, invited the woman to attend a play he had written. Problem was, Mickle accidentally inverted the names so that the note appeared to have composed by the woman, who was inviting Mickle to see a play she had written. It was a regrettable mistake, but it was the least of Mickle’s problems. The real problem was where to leave the note so that it would be found by the woman rather than her possible boyfriend.
I was no help. Nor was Mickle, really, who in his drunken and agitated state believed this to be his one and only chance to act.
Finally, in desperation, he opened the refrigerator, surveyed its contents, and stuck the note in a tub of lowfat cream cheese. His logic: Possible boyfriends don’t eat lowfat cream cheese.
He was correct. The woman found the note, attended his play, got together with him, broke up with him (or he her; I forget), married another man, divorced him, got back together with Mickle, and now, twelve years after finding a note in her lowfat cream cheese (forgive me that I do not know how long it took her to find it, nor what she thought on finding it, nor anything, really), has agreed, at last, to marry him.
I washed my clothes with a friend at a place in Santa Cruz called Ultramat. Halfway through, a woman walked in and put her clothes in the washing machine next to mine. She was kind of frumpy, with frizzy hair and baggy pants. I found her totally irresistible. (The moment I saw her, I told my friend I wanted to pull those pants right off her.)
As we were leaving, I noticed that she had disappeared but that her clothes were still spinning in a dryer. This gave me an idea. I ran to the car, tore off part of a paper bag, and frantically scribbled a note on it. The note read:
I just wanted to tell you that you’re totally beautiful and that I really like your pants.
I signed the note, “The Guy With Round Glasses,” and added a p.s.: “Goodbye forever!”
I left the note spinning in her dryer.
That was nine years ago.
A man in a wheelchair came to our door acting as if he knew J, then me. He said his name was Franklin and that he lived two streets away with his brother, whose name was also Franklin. He said that he’d been shot and robbed on August 14th and was recently let out of the hospital. He needed money, he said, for diapers, because he was incontinent. Then he pulled up his shirt to expose the top of one of the diapers.
I refused him. J gave him a dollar.
I believed he was lying about everything except being incontinent and having a brother with the same name.
There was a particularly awkward moment when J went to get the dollar and I was left to talk with the man after having turned him down. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” I said.
The shack was no bigger than a shed and had no windows. Its floor was slanted, the slant following the slant of the hill, so that the only workable prone position was “feet first,” with my feet pressed against the downhill wall. At first I tried using my jacket as a pillow, but I was soon too cold to sleep, so I put my jacket back on and tried sleeping without a pillow. Unfortunately this made my neck hurt, so I returned to using the jacket as a pillow. I slept a short time like that before waking from the cold. The rest of the night I wore the jacket and did not sleep.
I can’t remember where this was. I had been dropped off in the middle of the night at a truck stop and had wandered down a back country road to find shelter.
The shack was a few miles down the road, on a hillside to my right. I remember the moment I saw it, a vague shape silhouetted against a starless sky.
He got to work and felt bad. Knowing it was stupid, he decided to call her. Got into the “press such-and-such for such-and-such” loop. Tried her initials in the company directory. Didn’t work. Called again, hit zero for operator. Operator transferred him. She answered. Her work voice. He felt stupid. Stupid mistake to call. He that said their last conversation left him feeling bad. Could she spare just a minute to talk about it? She said she’d call him right back. The whole thing felt idiotic. He went into the conference room and shut and locked the door, then jumped up and down as though incredibly excited. It was something she once told him to do – when you’re feeling bad, perform an action associated with a happy feeling. It didn’t work. He returned to his desk and took a staple out of something, then went back to conference room and jumped some more. This time it worked a little. The phone was ringing when he returned. It was her. He told her about the jumping. She suggested he buy some candy. He said that candy make him feel bad. Buy some anyway, she said, and give it away. This made him laugh. He noticed he didn’t feel so bad anymore. They had only talked for a minute. Now he’s leaving to buy the candy.
You’re in a car that’s careening down an enormous cliff, plunging headlong to its destruction. In the manner of dreams, very few people in the car recognize what’s happening, although one must merely glance out the window to see. Meanwhile a small, dedicated group of passengers are working to improve conditions within the car (which are abysmal), while the majority occupy themselves with everyday concerns: love, work, entertainment.
Also the car has no steering wheel and no brake, and even if it did, it’s far too late for turning or stopping – that moment passed long ago, if indeed it ever existed.
Worse still – worst of all – this is not a dream.