TGI Friday, am I right reader? Time for me to belch another Frowback onto the internet, in the form of the next chapter of my heretofore unread self-published semi-autobiographical novel, The Suburbs of Babylon…
You’re with me so much, though you’re never with me anymore.
And it makes me cry. —The Sundays
I’m not looking for anything anymore. I’m too busy trying to run from what I’ve already found.
The minutes go by. I’m plodding along, plodding along. Tick-tock, clip-clop. I wonder if other people dwell on their misery as much as I do, or furthermore if other people analyze the way in which they dwell on their misery, or attempt to forget it as the case may be. I’ve found that trying to outlive it or beat it is futile. The magical day never comes. And conceptualizing the nature of my pain does nothing to reduce it. I’m bailing water from a disaster of Titanic proportions, and considering what a self-important blabbermouth I am, I’d wager that the majority of the population do not, in fact, partake in that particular pastime by which I am so maddeningly consumed. But now I’m analyzing the way I analyze the way in which I obsess over my own sickness. Perhaps I’ll stop now. I wouldn’t want to drive myself crazy, or anything.
I have eliminated all women from my life, and friends, too, truth be told. Alvin and Norman became angry that I was continually depressed and said I must choose between them and my misery—which isn’t really a choice at all—and I was promptly excommunicated from my lifelong companions. Their absence is hardly felt in the wake of the rest of my undoing. Besides, I still have Art to commiserate with.
I have compensated for the lack of human contact with excruciating amounts of alcohol (which leaves me just as empty and slightly drowsy). Self-punishment or crutch, addiction or immaturity? Can anyone say? Does anyone care? What is it about me that causes me to think any of this is noteworthy or noticed or noticeable?
I have become part of that heavily populated but lonely slice of society characterized as idiots who sit around and smile to themselves with a false-knowing but real-awareness-under-the-façade-of-knowing look on their faces. The look that demands validation but expects to be ignored. That cries out for recognition but waits to disappear. It is a logical reaction. It makes sense. It’s just that anyone suffering in it can’t do anything about it because he knows nothing except chaos, helplessness. The inevitable slipping of the grip. The ideal is exploded with irony. The smile instead of screaming. Comfort of the familiar sting. Which, to get back to it, is why alcohol has become the nucleus of my diet along with crow, bittersweet solitude, and the colder portions of my own black heart.
Last night I went out driving aimlessly, top down, looking for peace and seeing Jane in every curve of the geography. The air was crisp and breezy, stars twinkling cheerily. As I circled the Valley toward home, I saw in that direction a column of smoke and the warm orange glow of a structure fire, and for lack of anything else to distract me, I made a beeline for it.
It turned out to be the Guest Home. By the time I got there, the fire was out. The guests were huddled together, wide-eyed and speechless, in the parking lot. My eye instinctively sought out the pear-shaped man with the camera, thinking this should be the happiest day of his life, as the fire engines he loved so much were actually here, in living color. But he was nowhere to be found. Until a moment later, when he was wheeled out on a gurney by the paramedics. I asked around, and got the story.
It seems he was organizing his massive photo collection, which spanned two storage rooms (it wouldn’t fit in his own room) and which no one had ever been permitted to see (everyone respected his request for privacy), and had for some reason decided to burn one of the pictures. An orderly had walked by and seen him standing there, in the middle of the room, which was filled floor to ceiling with stacks and rows of the photographs and albums. Evidently, though the man wanted to burn the picture, he didn’t want to let it go, and held onto it until it began to scorch his hand. The orderly rushed forward and batted it away, whereupon it landed in a pile of papers and photos.
The way the story went, the pear-shaped man had kept the same small wardrobe for ten or so years, clothes that he wore as he developed his pictures, which had over time been doused again and again by flammable chemicals. So has he dove to quench the flames which had begun to destroy his life’s work, he himself was engulfed, and proceeded to pinball around the room, igniting every last one of his precious creations.
The fire was contained to one wing of the Home, and the Guests were permitted to return within a few hours. No one ever saw the photo collection. The pear-shaped man died later in the night. The people at the Guest Home were not quoted in the paper, so no one knows if he will be missed, or if any of them noticed he was ever there at all, for that matter. I couldn’t help thinking about my paintings, stacked against the wall of my room, bunched together like kindling.
* * *
It’s a Monday afternoon. I’m in a bar on PCH, sitting by a window—ten yards beyond which is the beach—watching the sun drop into the Pacific. The view is spectacular. There is no wind. The ocean is placid and gray. Before me on the table is a glass of Petite Sirah, which I am not yet drinking. I’m teasing myself with the aroma, which finds its way to me every time I turn my gaze from the beach to my waitress, a tall, thin brunette in a tank top and ponytail. She is a vision of California perfection. Her tan is of the kind that can only come from years of cultivation. She is a native. Her body is perfectly constructed, like an artwork, lean and delicate. But she is only a passing distraction.
There’s a deeper motive for why I’m here. I picked it for the view, of course, and the knowledge that I’d be free to write without being pressed to drink faster. But there’s a more sinister reason.
Jane works here.
Or at least, she did three months ago, the last time I saw her. This is the longest I’ve gone without actually laying eyes on her, and since I had no proof that she continued to live, I’d begun to worry that something had happened. In truth, I’ve sort of been staying faithful all this time (ridiculous, I know), not really looking for anyone else. Since her prodigal ebb and flow began two years ago, life has almost stood still in the in-between times when she was gone. I would exist in a tableau of misery until she returned to wash away the pain like a wave of amnesia.
But it’s been eighteen months. The self-abuse, strippers, and contemplation have ceased to carry weight, and I find I’m looking for the next step, which up till now has always been Jane’s tearful return.
She’s not here. Which seems apt. My lovely waitress has informed me that, last she heard, Jane picked up stakes and went to Vegas with some millionaire she met here one night. Apparently she called and quit from the car on the way, not bothering to pack her things or say goodbye to friends. Evidently she saw her chance and dove after it with vehemence. I am lost. I am at once relieved and petrified. Like an addict, I don’t know how I’ll survive without my fix on the thing that’s killing, me, but for the first time in years, I feel like I can look beyond my zip code and see a horizon.
Out on the water, the pod of dolphins that swims up and down this stretch of coast every day are making their return trip to Santa Monica. Who knows where they go then. I only know that tomorrow morning at around 10:00 they’ll pass this spot once more, heading West and North toward Oxnard. Hold on—I was wrong. It’s not the pod, there’s only two of them. A pair of dark fins, alternately cutting up through the surface and back down like pedals on a bicycle. Suddenly they disappear beneath the waves, the rhythmic rising and falling ended, and the two animals are off to parts unknown, shrouded in a dark blue world that is fading to black. The thought of that vast, dark ocean is overwhelming. It baffles me how a porpoise couldn’t feel the same, to be below the surface, and turn in the direction of the vast ocean and know that some silent, menacing predator could come lurking from the depths. Although I suppose when it’s all you know, darkness is a comfort. The void, an old friend. It is said that these animals are quite intelligent, and as communal as humans. It must be lonely in that cold world. But these two have each other, and that probably makes it all right. Impossible alone, but bearable together.
I take a sip of wine. It is like velvet on the tongue, and a blanket on the brain. My companion in this dark world, what I lean on in the face of oblivion. A fleeting comfort, but an affordable one—one that asks for nothing in return—except perhaps my liver.
The sun is setting, but I can’t see it. Low clouds have rolled in, shrouding the sea in gray. Suddenly, out of the surf waddles a sea lion. It pulls itself just beyond the breakwater, its head turning back and forth, seeming to peruse the bar over, as if it were looking for someone—an appointment, or a blind date perhaps. Then with a flurry of flippers it plunges back into the surf, back-paddling, nose in the air. I finish off the sirah, take one last look at the waitress, and head for the car, not knowing where to go but feeling I’ve overstayed my welcome here. I’ll probably just go home, to face the prison of my room and endure the frantic compulsion to leap back into the car.”
I hadn’t read this chapter in several years, and in re-perusing it I was shocked that there could’ve been a time in my life when I was that down in the dumps. But then I remembered that, before Thailand, I was always that sad. Sad in so many ways. For so many days.
I do miss that oceanside Malibu restaurant, though in truth it can’t hold a candle to a dozen similar joints around TLOS. Thank God for this country, that pulled me back from the brink.