The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 1 Part 2

Happy Friday, reader. Were you unaware it’s Friday, perhaps because every day is the same these days, thanks to coronavirus quarantine? Don’t blame yourself. We’re all in the same boat. In an effort to provide some distraction from your current situation, I’ve posted the following. It’s Part 2 of Chapter One of an awful novel I wrote in my youth, a mediocre mini-tome loosely based on my life and a clinical study of what causes a man to eventually move half way around the world. If you missed Part 1, I suggest going back and reading it first, so you have your bearings going forward. Here’s the second of three parts comprising Chapter 1, called “Peninsula”…

“There was a party here when I first arrived, my obligation as the new host.  Nothing much of interest to note, except that the women who came were not lesbians.  They were worse.  Beautiful, materialistic whores.  And they were shamelessly pawing my three best friends—they’d come down from the Valley to visit—which was a surprise to no one.  Whenever I am with them, women ignore me, in fact walk over me, and train their sights on my friends.  Part of my curse.  This was New Year’s Eve, by the way, and everyone was drinking freely, especially the women.  This could be made into a long story, but instead I’ll just say that, at one point, I was dancing with one of the pretty whores and somehow I hit her in the face with my beer.  I apologized, even though I wasn’t sorry, and she said that she probably wouldn’t remember it in the morning.  Which is fine, since I recall it with clarity.

It’s not that I’m bitter.  The mere truth of their shallowness makes them undesirable anyway.  It’s just that it would be nice from time to time to find a woman who is both beautiful and not a complete brainless ass.  And the point could be driven home less that my friends, who are themselves shallow and vapid with nothing of quality to offer, get more attention from women than I do.  Which is all men really want in the world.  Sad, but true.

*   *   *

We live on a peninsula.  It stretches from Northwest to Southeast, which makes it difficult sometimes to get ones bearings.  Growing up in Los Angeles, surrounded by either the mountains or the ocean, it was always easy to figure North, South, East, and West.  I’ve always had to know which direction was which.  I can’t even function if I don’t know which way I’m looking, where I’m coming from, and where I’m going.  Which is probably part of why I’ve never really gone anywhere.  It made me nuts for a while, living here and not having my internal compass straight.  But after a few sunsets into the Pacific, which were clear and calming and spectacular from our balcony, I got acquainted with West and could find my equilibrium.  Though somehow there was less mystery in my world after that.

*   *   *

My three best friends are Alvin, Norman, and Art.  Those aren’t their real names, but nicknames that have been bestowed on them since—oh, I don’t know when.  Alvin I’ve known since I was four.  I met him in preschool, where one day he shoved dirt in my face and made me cry.  There was always something malevolent in him, and a sense that he would do anything to subjugate, which was a thing my small, pacified psyche couldn’t understand.  Later, though, I would realize that it was the very essence of maleness that causes all men to vie for dominance.  He got the name Alvin I think from others in our group who sought to emasculate him—to make him less the lumberjack fireman he perpetrated and more of the nerd we knew him to really be.  In spite of this friction, or perhaps because of it, we’ve remained friends for two decades.

Norman, I met on a walking excursion to a girl’s house in the sixth grade.  He and I were waiting together at a stoplight and we recognized each other from school.  It turned out we both loved her, and it was a small pilgrimage for us.  It made us comrades along the way, but when we reached our destination, we fought for the right to knock on her door.  In the end, she wasn’t home, and we had to settle for playing with her dog on the lawn.  I heard something about that girl the other day.  She had a baby—a boy, named it Austin or Tustin or something bland like that.

I met Art through Norman.  It was one of those instances where, because a guy is a friend of your friend, and he hangs out all the time, he inevitably becomes your friend, too.  That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it did.  To my friends, I’m known by another name as well.  To Alvin, Norman, and Art, I am Earl.

My friends and I are on a journey together.  We separate for long periods of time, each wandering alone, but sooner or later we are together again, and what progress one of us has made on this journey, we all have made.  I believe this is what holds us together.

Our conversations are always about women.  Even when it seems to be about music or food, it is still really about women.  The three of us look different from each other; we have different interests.  But as Norman says, the three of us put together would make the perfect man.   I have to agree.  That is why I think, when we are together, that no woman deserves us.

We are beautiful together.  Those around us, men and women, are spellbound, the former because they are amazed at how we can have women hanging on our every word, the latter because our symmetry is flawless.  Each of us completes the other in a way that makes us all look more brilliant than the sun.  And given the dull minds of most women (and men), it is not hard to understand their amazement.  They stand agog and amazed; they are infatuated with our slightest movement.  In this way we are smarter than the average male, who will fight with his cohorts to look better, win the game of who is the better catch.  Though we still regard each other with vicious caution, like lions prowling among the pride, we have learned to work together for the greater good of our group.  However, at the crucial moment, when one must cut loose for the sake of winning over a woman, where my unscrupulous friends can sink their claws into the others’ backs, I have not been able to bring myself to go through with it.  I did once, but the outcome left me feeling unclean.  So I relent at the moment of truth, and inevitably go home alone.   The bliss continues until the late-night turning point, during that strange moment of transition between the laughter and conversation of the group and quiet couples homing in on each other.  That is when I fade into the wall.

It’s not that I don’t have affairs with beautiful women.  But I find the game taxing with its compromise and fast-forward intimacy.  What attributes I have take longer to emerge, in truth.  My friends say I should let go of such hesitance.  They feel it would go a long way towards healing my present condition.  I promise to try, but I have yet to allow my tender ache to turn to misogyny.  So in a dark room with strange curved figures lingering like crows about the carrion, I surrender to the street, where I can claim solitude.  This is what happened New Year’s Eve.  Alvin and Norman waged a drunken war with the pretty whores while I rang in the New Year alone under a boardwalk streetlight, thinking of the woman no longer at my side.

Tomorrow we are hosting another party.  A pretty female from the Shark Club whom I allowed to solicit my attention will be here.  I fear that if I drink too much, I’ll try to kiss her.  She has a lilting femininity that is not easy to resist when intoxicated.

*   *   *

Every day I try to sleep as late as I can, but the memory of where I am and why creeps into my consciousness while still unconscious and whispers to me in the form of her voice.  At first it is soothing and melancholy, while it is still coming from my drying well of hope, but as I awaken it changes to an elegy that I will carry with me until I sleep again.  And even then I won’t be free.

So I get up early and run on the beach, hoping to lose myself, but I never go fast enough.  Aside from a “good morning” to random passers by I speak to no one in the world.  I do not even hear my own voice during the day.  Roger and Ben work long hours, and the solitude is both a luxury and torture.  The apartment is as empty as my life.  The beach is still, like my muse.  It is as though I am in my head, and my surroundings are the gray expanse of my own lonely soul.  My footfalls on the brown sand, muted and expressionless, stretch behind me and seem to lead nowhere.  Even in this distant place, far from home, I am still trapped.  The ocean spreads off to my left and in my mind—a deep dark guardian of my fear, all unrealized and hoped for things lost somewhere beneath it—reminding me what I have yet to discover.  As I plodded on today, I came upon a flock of seagulls all roaming about near the water’s edge.  They let me get to within a few feet before taking to the sky in a multitude, hundreds of wings in unison, a dizzying circular pattern around and above me.  In the peninsula of my mind, they could have been notions of good, of self-will, of intent.  Expectation.  But in the end they too circled back, and landed where they had been.  No change.  Nothing new under the sun.

After running I busy myself, making rice for lunch, cleaning, playing solitaire.  There is even an occasional surge of bliss at these times, a kind of magnificence in solitude.  But then, when I am least prepared, the thought of her skin, of the warmth of her breath on my neck as she lays in my arms, will decimate me and dare my heart to stop.  It is then that I realize that even the momentary joy is seeded in pain, and I must either revel in it or kill everyone I see.

An interesting aspect of prolonged virtual isolation is the extent to which one may neglect the demands made of a regular member of society.  Such as bathing.  For a while I still kept presentable for the benefit of my roommates.  But as the days have worn on, and I’ve seen them less and less—they being the kind of people who leave the apartment to interact with the world—and my mood has turned more and more into something between narcissism and masochism, I have abandoned all impulse to be clean and am rejoicing in the pungent beauty of my natural essence.  I am the perfect antithesis of Ben and Roger, who must both, because of their professions, be impeccably clean.  They are accountants, of all things, and as I can barely remember the number of days in a week, we have little common ground there.  But at any rate, they are models of décor.  Ben complains of chronic razor burn as my beard flourishes, fungus-like.  Roger’s shirts glow beneath his suits, and are starched to perfection.  My shirts are equally stiff, though not from starch.

I have, on the other hand, become obsessed with the cleanliness of my surroundings.  I scrub the kitchen floor daily, vacuum, dust, stack, reorganize; no fingerprints on the mirror, no water drops left on the bathroom counter.  I sit stinking in a spotless room, the spice of my odor lost in ammonia and “mountain-freshness.”  I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve by cleaning everything but myself.  Maybe it’s a kind of sarcastic rebellion; I dote on the environment that I have grown to see as the silent cause and reminder of my useless, pathetic existence.  Because the truth is I’ve run here.  Away from all that reminds me of the one who left me.  Into oblivion and unfamiliarity like a screaming madman into the night.  I feel like Howard Hughes without the wealth.   I fear that eventually something will break down—I’ll have to go back because I’ll have run out of money, or my weakness and humiliation will eventually drive me insane.

It is at this point that a normal functioning person would stop whining, get out of bed, and go find a job.  That’s not me.  First off, I don’t anticipate being here long enough to need a job, and second, getting a job would mean buying into the charade of normalcy that my life does not resemble.  In truth I am hoping to run myself into the ground because I’m curious to see just how bad things can get.  Back in L.A., I held odd jobs—waiting tables, running summer camps, painting houses—but all that did was serve to prolong my anguish with just enough money to know I didn’t have enough.  I know I’ll eventually go back to that, if my life of abandon doesn’t kill me first.”

To be continued…

Next week’s post will finish up Chapter 1 of this melodramatic semi-fiction titled “The Suburbs of Babylon,” which I wrote in my 20s and early 30s. Between now and then, keep your face covered, your hands clean, and cheers to another week above ground and virus-free. Peace out.