Happy Friday reader, here’s the next installment of my heretofore unread blase semi-autobiographical novel, The Suburbs of Babylon. I’m skipping commentary this week as I’m swamped with work, getting ready for my first art exhibition, “Patpong Dangerous” at the Candle Light Studio starting 27 November. Anyway, here’s something to distract you for a few minutes…
I get so carried away. You brought me down to Earth. —Depeche Mode
On a hot December morning I find I have driven myself out to the beach again. I don’t know what I’ll do when I get here—or why I come. Probably because I don’t know where else to go, and the compulsion to leave my house in the Valley and just get away inevitably drives me to drive somewhere. Anywhere.
So I always end up here, looking out over deep blue water beneath crisp sunshine. The air is clear and I can see Catalina, a jagged purple outline between sea and sky. My only company is the mass of countless surfers who have at present stopped catching waves to play audience to the familiar pod of dolphins that is passing by like clockwork on their daily trek up and down the coast. They weave their way between the surfers, more used to them than the surfers will ever be to these animals.
To get out of the wind and to change locations again, I’ve huddled in a corner of Starbuck’s off the beach. The place is filled with people sipping coffee, reading, and milling about. I realize after a moment that as I’ve been daydreaming my eyes have fixed on a woman and her child. She is naturally beautiful, and somehow familiar. She returns my gaze with persistence, as if to will me to look away. I notice a beauty mark above her lip that reminds me of my past, and actually wonder to myself if people ever mistake her for Cindy Crawford when in a sudden flash it hits me that it is Cindy Crawford, world-renowned goddess and supermodel, and I’ve been unknowingly gawking at her for the last five minutes. She has no makeup on and is more slight in stature than I in my fantasies had imagined her to be, and apart from the mole and eyebrows looks like any other Malibu mom. It’s a significant moment for me, seeing her. She is the personification of what we all want—the American symbol of desire—men desire her, women desire to be her. She has always been for me the image of beauty by which all beautiful people were judged. Whenever I pictured success, love, fortune, Cindy was always somewhere in the frame. I didn’t recognize her at first because the person didn’t entirely match my dream of her. And now, as I watch her lead her boy out the door with her mute husband in tow, I realize that I must replace her with a new intangible icon. Her wings have been clipped; the angel has crash-landed. Luckily, I’ve had my eye on one of the new models in the Victoria’s Secret catalog.
* * *
Life is a struggle for me, and by that I don’t mean the cliché that success only comes with hard work. In my case, success is non-existent. I am a career-failure. Money is hard enough to come by, but for some reason, it’s impossible for me. I always seem to scrounge enough to barely keep my nostrils above water, and no more. It’s as if money and I are polar opposite ends of a magnet. It flies from me always.
Like most Gen-Xers, I don’t want to work for a living, but ironically that’s not why I’m broke. Although it’s probably why I can’t land a decent job. I hang on to the notion that your work should be something you enjoy doing. I’ve tried one or two things where I make money but detest what I’m doing. It doesn’t work. So instead I’m poor. And to make matters worse, I’ve no idea what kind of work would make me happy were I to pursue it.
So I content myself with teaching—though it reminds me of what I imagine a living death to be—because it keeps a roof over my head and food on my plate. Every now and then in a bright flash of optimism I allow for the hope that I could hold an exhibition of artwork, or sell a manuscript. But the same thing always happens. I hit closed door after closed door until eventually I must distract myself with something else so that my utter poverty and failure don’t drive me to send my car careening into the Pacific, a thought that tickles my imagination more often than it should.
Something has happened to me now, as I weave in and out of the shadow of the myth of love and don the mis-fitted guise of the living. I have the constant urge to get in the car and drive to San Francisco, but I haven’t subbed in a while, and money is scarce. Have to stick close to home and hope for work. So instead I’m in a bar, which I found more by instinct than sight, where I’m presently sipping a glass of Absolut and feeling my brain soften, like butter from the fridge to a sunny countertop. I find myself caught in a rhythmic swell, like a pulse. It is a tense version of the back-and-forth life I’ve always lived, which I will now attempt to explain.
Throughout my life every time a woman left me, my tight heart would bounce from despair to indifference, the latter lasting longer and longer each time, the thought of her a little less painful week by week. People who don’t know any better would say this was the “healing process,” when in actuality it is only a system of self-deception in order to keep from murdering everyone in sight. But this process of fading has been happening on a slightly larger scale with all that I dream of and for. The times when I burst and clutch at the wall over the thought of Jane’s soft bare skin grow less frequent, and what I once called love, like so many women before, begins to melt into a cartoon flash, unattached moments in two dimensions.
There are two possible clinical diagnoses for this. First, it could be that I have yet to find true love and thus mistake it for that which writhes within me for Jane (hear the familiar thrum of pop-psychology, “You’re OK, Earl!”). And someday someone will come into view, and all the pieces will fall into place. Though for the time being I have trouble swallowing that, which brings me to the other possibility.
That I am a weak, pathetic fool who loves with all his soul those creatures who are unable to love in return, and upon being faced with such news my mind, grasping for reason, for life, releases that love and replaces it with stone (hear the familiar thud of Earl-psychology, “You stupid shit-brain!”). Consider the words of the Violent Femmes: “You know that I want your loving, but logic tells me it’s never gonna happen, so then my defenses say, ‘Well I didn’t want it anyway,’ but you know sometimes I’m a liar.” What makes the situation worse is that I always seem to get a taste. A few delicious drops on the tongue, a shooting star in a blind eye, before it all collapses. Better to never know. Better to live in the cradle of loneliness. Better to die innocent. To take no dark memory to bed each night, wake up with the chill that will never go away. A woman who completed me. Holding me in the night. Now something between a dream and a memory.
Until the blessed mind makes short work of it, as I watch Jane fade to Technicolor. Am I getting better, or simply sliding further into madness? I am in the dark. I am always in the dark. I go home to die—or wait, I mean sleep.”
Swing by next Friday for Part 2 of this chapter, and between then and now keep your balls warm, you beer cold, and cheers to another week above ground in this adult Disneyland we love so well.