What am I doing? Am I intruding? I haven’t been here in a long time. I’ve gone into my old apartment with those keys I wasn’t supposed to keep. Even right now, when all I’m doing is writing this on eight pages of Chambertin stationery (even the “Hi!” I wrote that down!), it feels weird. The Chambertin emblem ahems, makes way reluctantly, gazes back at me with reproach. Today I was so tired I turned down the chance to do anything more exciting than drinking a glass of cashew juice—looking back, yes, that is the most exciting thing I did today—and now it’s night and I’ve let myself back in here, where I haven’t been for a while. Remember when Dukie drops out of school and then comes back to ask for a handout? “You shouldn’t be here, Duquan,” they tell him. They say that for a reason!
Yesterday someone told me a funny story about meeting a famously reclusive author, not the one any of us are thinking of, who at eighty-two turned out to be a boisterous man intent on spending every free moment doing push-ups. On a trip like this, he sprinted up hills ahead of the group, ahead even of his twenty-six-year-old girlfriend, and when they all arrived and the guide began to describe something like the kind of punishment Jesus received there, on that spot, he never let it prevent him from dropping spontaneously (but discreetly) to the ground and doing a good set of push-ups. He also, at some point, said he had ended up regretting his decades of zealous refusal to speak to the press or anyone else in a public forum, because having held his silence for so long he couldn’t just go back on it, he’d look silly. But you never regret doing push-ups, I don’t think—even if, as in this story, they make you look silly.
People here don’t like it if you are solicitous, or if you speak Spanish, and I intend to honor those edicts on this blog. They sometimes use racist language and then claim that, here, such language is okay and the phrases we consider okay back home are offensive. In this respect, I will abide by the American system. Occasionally they eat Japanese peanuts and then realize that they’ve just consumed gluten, and they can’t eat gluten, but then they’re okay afterward. If you ask them what they cook at home they will describe a stew made from a lamb’s spine that feeds eighteen people and is delicious. Somewhere nearby survive descendants of nineteenth-century Confederate refugees, who every year gather together to make fried chicken and peach pie and pass the time conversing in Southern-accented English.
But, still, you end up in your hotel room, attempting to rent a movie on iTunes and registering inchoate disagreement with things you read on the internet, because in the morning you are expected to make a case to a man who uses the word “access” interpersonally (“I have accessed him”) and now is the time to recuperate. Your coworker, who god bless his gimlet eye compares the book/video/convenience store/rehydrated-beef-offering bar that these guys go to every night to Papa Toby’s Revolution Café, has taken back the power adaptor. Your computer is dead, but you live on, copying out in longhand whole paragraphs from books you should be done with: “Used in a personal sense, the phrase ‘achieve an end’ seemed to her a small-minded snare. She preferred the word life, and, on rare occasions, happiness. If volition is bound to social imperatives, as William James believed, and it’s therefore easier to go to war than it is to quit smoking, one could say that Liz Norton was a woman who found it easier to quit smoking than to go to war.” That is not the whole paragraph, and really in longhand you only write the first sentence, and then think about how the last one manages to render itself so tentative. Then maybe you pick up something else: “Once I had decided to become a professional writer, another problem arose: the question of how to keep physically fit. I was also smoking too much—sixty cigarettes a day.” He decides to quit, but how does he keep fit? Is it push-ups? It’s not push-ups—it’s running! And what about writer #1, of the book that’s not done? By the time he decided to write novels, he had liver disease. Running wouldn’t have helped.