Excuses

December 17, 2001

Excuses

I never intended to read her journal. This is key: I didn’t enter her room with the intention of doing what I did. I’m not saying this excuses what I did, but I believe it places the violation in a slightly less serious category.

So goes excuse #1.

Excuse #2: She left the journal in plain view. Again I’m not defending my actions; it’s just that if she hadn’t left the journal on her night table, I wouldn’t have read it. In other words, I did not seek out the journal but rather fell prey to its temptations.

This is not a case of blaming the victim. Rather my point (and I realize I’ve said this in several ways already) is that I don’t normally read other people’s journals and so it took an extraordinary circumstance for me to do so.

Excuse #3: I was young and didn’t know better.

Some exposition: This happened twenty years ago while I was visiting a friend in California. My friend had a roommate, Molly, who I soon developed a crush on – a crush, it seemed, that was reciprocated. So one day, after a protracted and nearly unbearable build-up, I kissed Molly. We kissed for perhaps a minute, and that was pretty much that. Subsequently Molly’s interest in me seemed to wane, although it was hard to tell for certain because she was a difficult read.

A few days later, while Molly was at work, I went into her room to retrieve a book I’d left there, and it was then that I noticed her journal on the night table.

Excuse #4: I only read the parts about me.

As should be oblivious to the reader by now, my excuses are actually diminishments. I intend to whittle down my crime to its smallest possible size. It’s like that game in which you split a piece of food in half, then split one of the halfs in half, again and again, until the thing that remains is so small it cannot be split in half anymore.

At any rate I began reading her journal from the entry she wrote on the day we met, and I continued through to the present, skipping her reflections on other people and other events. In doing so I confirmed two key facts:

  1. She was immediately attracted to me.
  2. She didn’t feel much while kissing me, which surprised her but which she nonetheless considered an unassailable truth.

This was precisely what I had suspected, and it was a relief to have it confirmed. Satisfied, I carefully replaced the journal on Molly’s night table and left the room.

However, the next day I returned to see if she had written anything new about me. Without question, this return trip was a more serious violation of her privacy, given that I now knew how she felt (excuse #5: I didn’t know how she felt).

Excuse #6, apropos of nothing: People do worse things.

Excuse #7: At least I’m being honest about it.

For better or worse, my return trip bore fruit, for Molly wrote that she was experiencing a surge in her feelings for me and was wondering if a second round of kissing might be in order. This was both thrilling and confusing as Molly hadn’t done anything to indicate such a shift. Guilt struck (excuse #8: I feel guilt about what I did) as I now knew something I wasn’t supposed to know. This was in contrast to discovering that Molly’s feelings for me had waned – which was something I already suspected that. The new information was different because Molly had clearly intended to keep her feelings secret from me, at least for the present.

Perhaps due to the awkward circumstance of knowing Molly’s secret, I did not kiss her that night (excuse #9: I suffered for my crime).

The next morning I returned to her journal for the third and last time. Here is what I found written there:

Michael, I know you’re reading my journal because I’m reading yours. I don’t want to do this anymore. Truce.

December 16, 2001

The Contents of My Bag

my bag
photo: Pamela Cobb

Four general points before we begin:

  1. I bring my bag everywhere, without exception. Too many times I’ve left it behind and then regretted the decision. An ancillary advantage to this policy is that I never need wonder if I should bring my bag on any particular occasion; the answer is always yes.
  2. In contrast with my girlfriend, who only carries what she thinks she will need on a given excursion, I always carry the same items, all of which pass a certain informal test for combined usefulness and compactness.
  3. I am a practical person concerned with practical matters. Everything in my bag is there for a practical reason.
  4. My bag is insanely sexy.

Inner Front Mesh Pocket

Bee sting kit

My father, a pharmacist, once warned me that I would die if I was ever stung by a bee and didn’t receive medical attention in twenty-four hours. Crazy as this sounds, it’s probably true, since the one time I was stung, my arm expanded to twice its size, my eyes watered like mad, and I struggled to breath. Scary stuff.

Swiss Army knife

What am I going to do the next time I fly? In the past I’ve always carried my Swiss Army knife onto the plane as a result of carrying my bag onto the plane. Post 9/11, this is no longer possible.

Rachel’s keys

We’ve been together nearly eight months, and the apartment key exchange happened at about the four-month mark. However I still prefer ringing her buzzer and having her come downstairs to let me in, since this is less intrusive.

Work key

Although I only work there one day a week, I was given an office key. I haven’t actually used it yet, except for the time I was the last one to leave and realized in the hall that I had forgotten my sweater.

Pen Slot

Two pens

It’s maddening how these Uniball 2mm pens, which I otherwise love, run out of ink in the exact amount of time established by the fuckers at Sanford as the shortest amount of time a pen will last and still not seem like a total rip-off.

Yellow highlighter

Highlighters should be yellow. Other colors are wrong.

Inner Front Compartment

Small collapsible umbrella

Given to me by my mother, who I have hurt again and again for not liking or not using (and in fact often discarding) her gifts.

Water bottle

The heaviest item in the bag, but well worth it. It not only saves me from buying bottled water but ensures I have something to drink on the subway.

Two canvas shopping bags

Given to me by my ex-girlfriend, who bought them in Germany for something like fifty cents each. Never fails to impress the cashiers at Prana Foods.

Main Compartment

Current issue of TimeOut

The only publication I subscribe to. Finding a weekly magazine with comprehensive, well-organized movie listings transformed my experience of living in New York.

8.5″ by 11″ notepad in plastic notepad holder

I purchased the notepad holder, if that’s what it’s called, at Staples. I hate the cover, which is over-designed, but I love how light and sturdy it is.

Front Flap Pocket

Two zip disks

One PC, one Mac. Be prepared.

One floppy disk

Formatted for PC, since this works on both platforms.

Wallet

No money here; I keep that in the front left pocket of my pants (right front pocket is for credit card, driver’s license, and subway pass). Wallet instead holds business cards along with various membership cards and IDs. Also, in a little zippered compartment intended for coins, a fingernail clipper.

Work ID

Worn on a chain around my neck. Nuff said.

Checkbook

I keep checks to deposit under the top flap, folded. Whenever I withdraw money, I look there to see if there are any checks to deposit. This eliminates having to think about going to the bank to deposit checks. Most of my systems exist to save me from having to think about something. I am a lunatic.

Keys

Color-coded:

Yellow = outside downstairs (think: caution, you may be mugged)
Blue = inside downstairs (think: freedom, you were not mugged)
Green = apartment (think: growth, prosperity)
Red = bathroom (think: emergency)

Back Pocket

NYC subway map

I love this map, not only because it shows the entire New York subway system but because it’s laminated. Everything precious should be laminated.

Assorted maps and schedules

Manhattan and Brooklyn bus schedules. New York street map. Philadelphia commuter train timetable (my mom lives in Philadelphia).

5″ by 7″ three-ring binder

Address book info (name, address, phone number) printed from a Word Doc; print-out of email addresses; list of all the places I’ve ever lived; in back flop, soft cloth for cleaning glasses.

The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard

The only book I read. I am a lunatic.

Secret Hidden Inner Front Pocket

Rolling papers

A godsend when needed.

Condoms

An assortment of male and female types. The female type, in case you haven’t tried or don’t know, fit into a woman the way a trash can liner fits into a trash can (no offense meant, truly), particularly in how the open end, which has a flexible ring embedded in it, encircles the outside of the rim.

December 14, 2001

My Heart Laid Bare

Four months ago I removed all of my business-related information from Oblivio and put it on a separate website. Doing this freed me, in my own mind at least, to write whatever I wanted, or rather, more of what wanted. Previously I felt constrained by what I imagined that people (read: clients) would think. Oblivio has changed since then as I’ve tested the limits of this new freedom. Its limits are considerable. There are many things I still don’t say and can’t imagine ever saying.

Baudelaire once said that if a man could write a book that exposed the truth of his experience, the book would be a masterpiece. I tend to agree with Baudelaire, but I balk at the price one would pay for such a work, masterpiece or not. One would lose a lot more than clients. Or I would, at least. Or at least I think would.

Mark Pilgrim might disagree. Two months ago Mark was fired from his job for publishing a weblog in which he posted a personal piece about addiction. His boss was concerned that one of the company’s clients might discover Mark’s writing and think the wrong thing, whatever that may be, so Mark was told to shut down the site. He refused and was fired. Mark and I exchanged some emails yesterday, and he wrote something that struck me, which is that he’s thought long and hard about what he might have done to short-circuit the chain of events that led to his firing, and that all he has been able to think of is this: be someone else.

December 13, 2001

How to Get Nothing Done

Brooding helps.

As does obsessing over things beyond your control or ability to influence.

Try re-reading the newspaper, looking for articles you skipped the first time around.

Nap.

Write emails you don’t need to write and edit them to eloquence.

Search online for your various ex’s until you discover that one, a biggie, has returned to her hometown where she works in the Budget & Finance department of the local university, serving as a “team member” on the Dean’s Office Feedback project.

If possible, locate her email address but do not find any recent photographs, however comprehensive your search.

Consider writing to her, and in fact begin several such emails, but then dig up your last letter to her, written four years previous and never sent, in which you relate the pathetic story of how your roommate at the time reported that she, your ex, had called saying that she was in town for just one day and was sad to have missed you, and how this moved you to tell her how much it meant to you to hear from her after five years of silence and how it made you realize what a jerk you had been to harbor bad feelings for so long, and how you had gone to bed that night filled with such happiness and relief, only to discover the following morning that the message had been left by another woman with the same name.

Space out.

Make lists.

Remember the first time you and aforementioned ex had sex and how her then recent ex-boyfriend, who was also your boss, appeared at her door in the middle of everything, and how she went into the hall to talk to him while you stood naked on her bed, not knowing what else to do, and how you listened as they argued about the fact that he wanted to come into her room, only she wouldn’t let him – not for any reason, she said, but because he had no right – and how he kept saying that he knew someone was in there, because he wasn’t, as he kept saying, an idiot, and how you wondered if you should put on some clothes in case he decided to storm into the room, because you had a better chance in a fight with him with clothes on.

Contemplate new shelving strategies.

Put on the kind of music that befits the melancholic mood brought on by thinking about a woman who never loved you and who you never loved, as you would each periodically remind each other, and then discover, on further research, that she had placed 29th out of 37 entrants in the 34-39 age division of the 2001 Run for Independence 5K.

Calculate that as 10:36 a mile.

Repeat as necessary.

December 9, 2001

Taxonomy

What is a good life? This question has obsessed philosophers since the Greeks, and what we are left with after 2,400 years are three competing theoretical approaches identified by Derek Parfit in Reasons and Persons as Hedonism, Desire-Fulfillment, and Objective List. What follows is a brief explanation of each, stripped of nuance and accompanied by photos of Anna Kournikova, who has more personal websites devoted to her than anyone in the world and who never fails to remind me that men are attracted to women with baby-like features because men, broadly speaking, want women to be docile and helpless.

Hedonism

Anna Kournikova

Hedonism champions happiness. The more happiness you experience, the better your life. There are actually two schools of thought here, each with its own definition of happiness. Narrow Hedonism considers happiness a homogeneous state of pleasure, while Preference Hedonism expands the definition to include any state of mind favored by the individual, including pain. However the two schools are united in their focus on mental states, which, as you will see, is a bad idea.

Or maybe you won’t. Here’s a test. Imagine a life in which you are married to some fabulous person who you love and who brings you nothing but happiness, only said person is actually fucking your best friend. Would you prefer to know the painful truth or live your life in blissful ignorance? If you answered painful truth, you value something else other than mental states and thus do not subscribe to Hedonism.

Desire-Fulfillment

Anna Kournikova

Desire-Fulfillment theories define a good life in terms of… the fulfillment of desire. This is different than Hedonism in that one may desire a thing which, when fulfilled, does not produce a particular state of mind. To borrow an example from Aristotle, imagine that you have a child who you love and want very much to grow to be a happy and successful adult. Unfortunately you die while your child is still a child, which is sad, but then many years later your wish comes true. According to Aristotle, this turn of events makes your life a better one, despite the fact that you are dead. That’s right: you need not be alive for the fulfillment of a desire to effect whether your life is a good one.

Certain Desire-Fulfillment theorists say that only “ideal” desires count toward a good life. What are “ideal” desires? They are the set of desires you would have if you knew everything there is know and had flawless reasoning capacity and weren’t the neurotic bastard you are. This refinement is necessary to account for the fact that people want all kinds of superficial crap. That’s one of the core problems with this approach. Moreover certain people are, or can be, immoral, even after going through the “ideal” ringer above, which doesn’t sit well with certain philosophers. This objection can be leveled against Hedonism as well, and it leads to the final group of theories, Objective List.

Objective List

Anna Kournikova

Philosophers flying this banner (Plato was the first) propose an inventory of things that are, to quote Parfit, “good or bad for people, whether or not these people would want to have the good things, or to avoid the bad things.” I have dubbed these the Chinese Menu theories in honor of their familiar “one from column A, one from column B” format. Notably no one has ever actually proposed such a list; what has been proposed rather are various approaches to the question of what general form such a list should take. Of course this is no less ridiculous than an out-and-out list, for it merely attempts to hide the ridiculousness by making it too fuzzy to decipher.

The problem is specificity. The more specific the list, the more preposterous, for one can always devise an account of a good life that doesn’t include any of the items on the proposed list. Vagueness is no refuge, however, for the less specific an account is, the less meaningful. In the end one is left in the unhappy middle, claiming that a good life consists of one or other combination of vaguely stated things.

The philosophers who subscribe to this view are called Realists. Realists believe that value is inherent in the world (as opposed to being created by us), which leads to some really exhausting mental acrobatics once you ask yourself what a world with inherent values would need to look like.

At any rate, and I personally find this inexplicable, Anna Kournikova has yet to win a professional tennis tournament in singles, despite having been ranked as high as eighth in the world. Injuries have contributed to her difficulties, but still.

December 1, 2001

Party!

I’m having a birthday party this Saturday, the first birthday party I’ve had in twenty-two years. I dread the thing and am basically forcing myself to do it.

When I was kid I loved this day more than any other. My mother had her faults but she knew how to throw a party. We’d go to New England Pizza, my friends and I, and eat ourselves sick. That’s what fun is. In later years we had a contest to see who could eat the most pieces. One year Howard Skolnick caught Scott Rosengarden spitting out half of his last piece into the toilet, which gave the title to Richard Marcus. Big drama! Another year Anthony Pitcharelli (who later became a champion high school discus thrower, then had a nervous breakdown from which he has never recovered) ate fourteen pieces. They were smallish pieces but still.

It’s going to be a kid-style birthday party, without the kids. We’ll wear hats and play kids games like pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs. The motif is smiley faces. Here’s the front of the invite:

smiley face

I tried Rachel’s patience by changing my mind a half dozen times. All the while she was steadfast in her refusal to push for the party. She does that and it’s over. But Rachel’s no dummy: she let me stew in my ambivalence. In the end I decided to do it, telling myself that it could turn out to be one of those things that makes me realize what a moron I am for not doing certain things because I supposedly know what they’re going to be like.

Still to buy: smiley-face napkins, smiley-face hats, smiley-face plates, smiley-face cups, and a yard-wide smiley-face for decoration.

The menu is pizza.