Journal Excerpt

by dschapman

The weather is 40 degrees dropping and wet. They say the rain might turn to snow tonight. Snow! Just yesterday, the weather was bright, the earth hot and sunny… I stayed home today. At first I was only going to skip my first few classes, but three hours later the weather was worse, the sleep in my eyes was still heavy, and I felt totally uncompelled towards anything. Times like that – times without compulsion of any sort – are the best times to leave the house, to go to class, to do what should arbitrarily be done. But I was not feeling arbitrary. Or… Well, the weather wasn’t really that bad, but I couldn’t walk my dog in it, and I didn’t want to leave my dog all alone in the house all day – who knows what he would do. I talked myself through the first couple hours, forgiving myself for skipping Latin, because there wasn’t much to it, and I could do it alone. It was nothing to talk myself out of art history. So I turned over in bed and I had a few dreams and then I woke up again, and the weather was still dreary, and my dog was watching, expectantly, from the foot of the bed… I got out of bed and I showered. I was right on time to make it to my next class, my best class – and in a way, my most expendable. A class about – Sartre! It killed me every time. Worst class of them all. And after that, psychology, which was… nothing I needed to attend, but something I’d already missed too many times, precisely because I felt no need to attend it, and was being threatened with expulsion over. Well – expel me, you bastards! It’s exactly like anyone ever wrote of it, all those squealing little prigs of squalor old – I can’t even remember a single name, there are so many of them, so ubiquitous, the-prodigal-scholar-that-failed-out-of-school, easy  school at that… Take me, then – I’m ready, I’m willing, I will put up no struggle, nor will I surrender; I will only sigh, in mutual disrespect, and pretentious, thick pity.

I stepped outside on the porch, trying to push myself into the car and onto the city. It can be nice, on days like this, to drive, safe and sound, well-protected, through voluminous country-side rain… But not today. My dog howled and I immediately went back inside. I slipped a leash around him and took him outside. He stood beside me sniffing the rain for a minute and did nothing. I took him back inside. I put on a coat, over my sweater – I looked ridiculous. I stepped back outside. My dog howled from inside, scratching at the door. I felt ridiculous. I went back inside and got a book to read in class. I patted my dog on the head and went back outside. The book started getting rained on and I realized that if I was going to read a book I may as well read it at home, and that without an umbrella this book would surely get – wet… I went back inside. I was starting to feel lousy, no matter which way I went about it. I wish I had any compulsion, any drive, to license me out of going to class – I would have gone, but I was overcome with the poetic spirit that morning, and I wrote my magnum opus instead! No, but I am never so lucky as that. I had no choice, I just couldn’t go – seized by a mystical calling! Oh, but I certainly had choice… pure, unadulterated, neutral, fruitless choice. I chose indecision, you could say, if you trying to be poetic about it. Literary about it. It’s funny, all those literary dogs, the most literary, dog-like writers of them all – Miller, Sartre, whoever, them all – rail against literature; they say, like clever little bandits, “I do not need to make phrases. I write to bring certain circumstances to light. Beware of literature. I must follow the pen, without looking for words.” Follow the pen, must you? You sick little weasel, you fat, pompous rat… The problem, I decided, was Sartre, it all came down to one man, who I was wasting too much time on. My own Rollebon. Oh! Look at me go! Slam-dunk, Sartre! You got me. As if anyone else were any better… No, no, it only gets worse! Keep your wits about you, old man – something ominous is descending…

I had no choice; I wasn’t going to class today. I wavered on the porch for what felt like an hour, cold and just-barely getting wet, before breathing a sigh of regretful relief and going back inside. If only I had a headache, or was dog-tired, or nauseous, or sad – any paltry justification would do, any good reason would soothe me. Take a day off, they say… take a day off? What does that mean? I dream about it… taking days off, taking – vacations… “We passed the time in late-night dives…” Where was that from? It flashes like a warning before me. Was that – no, it couldn’t be. And where were the shoemakers when you needed them? I could use some new shoes. My last ones, my nice ones, are ruined. I ruin many things, I don’t know how, but I know that I shouldn’t be allowed to have nice things. The ancient manuscripts on my wall – chewed into pieces by my insolent mutt. My grandfather’s violin – shattered to pieces by my insolent friend. My only copy of A Death in the Family, man-handled and dog-eared by the insolent women I lent it to… Never lend your books away, just give them out, hand them out like candy. I lift the mug to my mouth; I make a speech, the people cheer; and that is how the world might end…

I heated some red beans and rice for lunch. I have been eating red beans and rice for weeks now. On the whole, it’s been a very satisfying experience… Perhaps it could have been better. If I had had cornbread, that would have been something. Or a proper drink to join it with. Although, for the first week, I had root beer, and after that, I brewed some tea… but lately, it’s been water. Cold, dirty tap water. Glass after glass after glass of ice water. And sometimes a bottle of gin… Just to pretend, for a day or an evening, that the world is getting drunk again, and people living, breathing, wake up with fresh faces, step into their cotton robes – cotton clothes, leather jackets, vacant dripping stares of love; gone are the cars – and the romances – for romance is a brand new word, one older than the flesh and stone of history, the broken edge of the outcropping, scattered pieces of bone in a battlefield – romance is an altogether different abstraction. Cars, too – well, I mean, what could I say about it? Everything speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Just do it yourself – alive, I mean, just be living – as if you weren’t already! You should tell me you are finished with me, that I am done for. When I read books I feel like I have written them, and why shouldn’t I have? I mean, it’s too late now, I couldn’t if I tried… That’s the trick, the people, caught up in delusion – they distinguish this from that, they talk about art as a feeling, they talk about their feelings and give them different names, naming this and that, as though this and that were divisible; pretenses elude them, vocal nuances mislead them, animals frighten them; and no, they’re not to be trusted, least of us all are they to be trusted; I mean, just look at them! Look at the way they dress – look at the clothes they wear! As if clothing didn’t matter – well, what matters, then? Go on – out with it! If something matters, I mean, if something really matters, then something exists, everything exists, there is something to aim for, something to compare to, something by which all other things can be accepted or dismissed or configured – if only something mattered… All of these worlds would exist. All of these beautiful, true, safe, perfect, encouraging, ennobling, ecstatic, ambitious, harmonious worlds that I no longer dared to even believe in as mere possibilities, as causes for all these occasions, as real and virtuous universal totalities, these worlds would, at the very least, exist… a raison-d’etre, or, even having already happened, could have at least have happened… But they were destined to not come true, not a one of them, whether they’d happened or not, because if nothing really matters… Well, of course, as anyone easily realizes, if nothing really matters, then everything can matter, everything is free, everything means just as much as it does, it matters absolutely, manner-of-factly so – but either way, wording aside, the logical end is the same; total blindness, aimless epiphany. No cause for caution, no cause for excitement; don’t overdo it – as if you possibly could! But you’ll try, one way or another, won’t you? And you’ll wind up just the same as everyone else… And what’s more – you’ll be just for it, you’ll be perfect; the world will be the same as always. Well… Things could always be worse…

Later in the day the weather improved and I decided to go to town and visit my family. It was getting close to dinnertime… perhaps they’d have a delicious meal for me, waiting, on my plate. Yes, that would be something – a night without red beans and rice. My dog was suffering a severe case of cabin fever so I took him with me for the ride. I realized outside of the city that I was low on gas so I I stopped to get gas at a gas station and there, while I was minding my own business and pumping my gas, a handsome old bastard stepped up to me, wearing a blazer with grey, greasy hair. Yes, I recognized him… It was that man again… I smiled and shook his hand and I sized him up, as he did me. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to happen. He complimented me; I returned the favor, lying like Cyril the horse to the jury; I had had about enough of him – it was raining, I mean, couldn’t he see it was raining? I resisted the urge to tell him about the weather, although it was all that I wanted to do – “Look, man – the sky is dreary, our shoes are wet…” But I resisted, and he took the opportunity to ask me about my life. “What are you doing these days,” he asked me. What am I doing? What am I – doing? What does he mean? I licked my lips in frustration and noticed the gas meter had stopped running; my business was finished there. What do I do? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What do I… do? I mean, I… I’m – I mean, what is anyone doing? I mean – I can tell you what I’m not doing – I’m not passing my time in a pleasant cafe somewhere, drinking something or saying something about something to someone; I am not riding a bicycle, or pitching a tent in a camp in the wilderness, or taking the train to New Orleans. No, nor am I studying horticulture, nor becoming an apprentice cobbler, nor making a fortune selling bean futures – I mean, what? I am not typing on typewriters, I am not wearing hats indoors, I am not taking girls to the movies, I am not making faces with friends, lighting candles, taking leisurely baths, criticizing Camus, shucking oysters, speaking French, reading Derrida; I am not developing new plastics, I am not researching new drugs in the Amazon, I am not building bridges in Mugabe, I am not paying for drugs in a den in East India with a handful of rupees; Hell, I’m not even spreading diseases, I’m not even entertaining visitors, I’m not even getting drunk in the afternoon!

But all at once I realize how vain and how metaphysical I am being, how absurd and incorrigible and pretentious, and I am deeply embarrassed, I have been thinking out of form again, I want to sob and blow my nose, and tell the man I’m on his side, I love him, that we will get through this, that I have been doing everything, I have been changing the world, I have lived, I have existed, I have made friends, I have made mistakes, had experiences – had adventures! Who was I, to pretend to not understand the old man? To take his words as I’d taken them, to pretend that he’d offended me? I mean, it was a simple question, and I understood every word of it… I swallow a capsule of guilt and I tell the old man; “Well I’ve been – you know, lately, I’ve just been – ” My phone rang and I reached for it instantly. “Oh, my – pardon me, I have to take this – ” And the man left with a polite farewell and it was like nothing had ever happened. I never had to say anything about myself to him, I bottled it all up inside me, at least what I could. My mother was on the phone. She said she was baking a pie for dinner, if I’d care to join them. You know, I said, I do love pie. I remember when once, as a boy, she made me a pie for my birthday, and I expressed dismay, saying, “This isn’t the finest pie you’ve ever made, is it?” And of course it offended my mother and my wretched aunt said, “Well aren’t you quite a critic,” and I said, “Of course I am – I’ve been raised with the very best!” Like a little Sir Winston Churchill. It was the perfect thing to say and my mother accepted the compliment wholeheartedly and on that day I realized what elitism was. Well, let the elite have their elitisms, as a wise man may or may not once have said. So long as they are qualified! Well, at least I’m not a Communist. No, not me – capitalist, a good, red-blooded American capitalist. Above all else, for whatever it means, a businessman. And my life has been good enough for long enough to be grateful for it, although I have lost my belief in adventure, my belief in experience –  the all-hallowed lore of experience, of living life – live your life, they loved to tell us. But I know better than that – oh, how I know better. Pretty little mantras like “Live every moment as if it were your last” are for the proles; if that’s what you need to believe in, then so be it, but leave me out of your illness; I have illness of my own to contend with. I must be careful; I am at risk of being called a curmudgeon. Well, wouldn’t I deserve it, if I were? I probably am. Grumpy old man. Pathetic curmudgeon. They say he’s a genius, they say – but you know what they say about geniuses, and someone will pipe up, what do they say about geniuses? and someone else will point a finger at their head and spin it in circles… “Yes, that sounds wonderful,” I said, and I told her I loved her, and I ended the call.

Advertisements