March 31, 2003

Going to California

Doug was hired to paint and varnish our apartment. He lives in the apartment above us and is otherwise unemployed. The first time we spoke, he told me that he’s hoping to secure a writing position at Harvard, only they have repeatedly refused to grant him an interview.

Doug is the most earnest person I’ve ever met. Each day when he arrives, he carefully explains what he intends to do that day and how long each step should take. Whenever he needs to use our phone, he tells me who he’s calling, approximately how long the call will take, and in what way the call is related to the painting and varnishing of our apartment.

Today, apropos of nothing, he announced that he likes music, particularly classic rock. The only kind of music he doesn’t like is country and western.

“Are you a music lover?” he asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“What about classic rock? Do you ever listen to classic rock?”

“Now and then,” I said. “More so when it was released.”

“I learned a bit of classic rock trivia you may find interesting. It concerns the Led Zeppelin song ‘Going to California.’ Do you know it?”

I nodded.

“Would you care to guess who it was written for?”

“Pat Nixon?”

“Joni Mitchell. Led Zeppelin wrote a song about Joni Mitchell.”

Yesterday Doug told me that he’s written a screenplay about the first woman director in Hollywood. He sent off a slew of query letters about it, but has yet to back from anyone, despite the fact that the director – whose career declined to the point that she was directing Brady Bunch episodes – recently died. He asked if I’d be interested in reading the screenplay, and I said sure, thinking I really would be interested in reading it, if only to see what such a deadly earnest person would write.

I’ve now known Doug for five days. Today is the first day I saw him without his painter’s cap. It turns out he’s balding in a particularly unattractive manner, his hairlessness describing an upside-down U. When I saw this I felt a pang of compassion. Here is a man who hasn’t been able to get an interview at Harvard, whose query letters have gone unanswered, who is earnest to point of absurdity, and who, I now discover, is losing his hair in a particularly unattractive manner.

The day I met him, he told me a story about a woman he encountered in a bar the previous night. He’d been sitting in the bar for some time and had already had three or four beers when the woman walked in and sat next to him. They struck up a conversation. She said she was waiting for a friend. This friend never showed, if indeed she existed, and Doug and the woman bought each other several drinks.

They made a date for the following night and Doug made her promise she was going to keep it. He told her that he’d been stood up in the past and had come to doubt what women told him. At this the woman leaned over and kissed him on the mouth. “Okay, I believe you,” he said, and they kissed again. It had been a long time, he said, since anything like this had happened to him.

I intended to ask him about the woman the next day, but five days have gone by and I still haven’t asked. I’m afraid she stood him up.