Day 200: Send a message in a bottle

I was awoken by bright sunlight on my face and a pressing need to urinate. I stumbled to the bathroom, knocking over bottles with each step, the noise like rubber mallets on my skull.

It was sunny outside; flowers were starting to bloom in the yard outside my cottage. Flowers? Wasn’t everything covered in snow just a few days ago? What month is this? It wasn’t important, at least right then: I needed food, water, aspirin, maybe a small glass of wine…

The quarter-gallon of milk in the refrigerator was a solid, and the bread on the counter was moldy. Breakfast was eggs and bacon—things that never go bad, right? While I was cooking, I reached for a bottle of wine—just a little, to tide me over until I could make coffee——there was no wine in the bottle, but there was a piece of paper. Paper? How the fuck did that get in there?

I scanned the kitchen: bottles everywhere, all of them with scraps of paper inside. I finally spotted an unopened bottle—a cheap, vile red, but it was better than nothing—poured a glass, drank it with my breakfast, and tried to reconstruct the last few months.

It was a blank.

I was sitting back in my chair after breakfast, drinking a third glass of wine, casting my eyes contemplatively around the cottage—most of which was one large room—when it finally occurred to me that, perhaps, the pieces of paper in the bottles might be messages from my excessively-drunk self to my mostly-sober self.

I grabbed the nearest bottle—and then realized that I was going to have to break the bottle to get the paper out. All of the bottles: dozens, maybe hundreds of bottles, all with scraps of paper in them. What to do with all that glass?

I grabbed an armful and carried them outside, to the fire-pit. I found a few logs, threw them into the pit, and broke the first bottle on one of them. The writing on the paper—well, it wasn’t really “writing,” it was indecipherable squiggling. I tried a second, a third, a fourth: all the same. A word was decipherable on the fifth scrap: “cold.” On the sixth was something that looked like “found corkscrew.”

I went in for more bottles.

Several dozen broken bottles later, all I had was a small handful of words: “wine,” “bread,” “piss,” “snow”—and a lot of squiggles. I was ready to give up, to throw the rest of the bottles in the pile and burn the lot of them—to consign the rest of the scraps to destruction, unread.

I couldn’t do it, though: surely the messages from the early days of the lost months would be readable, at least mostly? I had to keep breaking bottles. And so I did.

There were, I think, a dozen dozens. I’m amazed that I didn’t cut my hands more than I did, breaking all that glass. It wasn’t worth it: the squiggles got harder to read, not easier—some were just lines across the paper, like small children make.

On the last scrap—although who knows when I drew it, because I didn’t date any of them—as if I would have known what the date was——I didn’t know then, mostly-sober and smashing bottles…

…on the last scrap was a drawing of male genitalia. A hairy cock and balls.

I burned the cottage down, walked down the mountain back into civilization, and never drank again.

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Day 220: Live this day as if it were your last.

There are a lot of asinine proverbs out there, and “Live every day as if it were your last” is one of them. It can’t be done. You know why? This is why:

Damn, Bill Murray.

Of course, the Book doesn’t want me to live every day like I’m going to be dead tomorrow—just one. It even provides me a handy hypothetical scenario—a meteorite is about to obliterate the planet, and only I know!—so that I’m healthy and there are no consequences, for me or anyone else. I’m Phil Connors for a day, I guess.

What would I do with a day like that? Have a ridiculous breakfast, yes—but I’d be drinking champagne from the bottle, and not coffee from the carafe. I’d be drinking all day, in fact. I’d play with my kids, I’d take my wife on a date (for lunch, before I got too drunk), I’d ignore the stacks of work that I’m mostly ignoring anyway. I might pick a fight with my asshole neighbor. No, no, I wouldn’t do that: I’d just burn his house down. No consequences, right?

Living a “last day” that’s radically different from all your other days seems, I don’t know, wrong somehow? I mean, I wouldn’t go to work if I knew I was going to be dead in twenty-four hours—but I also wouldn’t walk through a parking lot smashing car windows, or hire a van-ful of prostitutes, or gorge myself on french fries and doughnuts and cupcakes. I wouldn’t do any of those things anyway: why would I do them just because I was going to be dead soon?

Because my life is sad and miserable, and I need the extraordinary circumstance of my impending death to enable me to do what I’ve secretly desired to do all my life, the things that will finally make me happy, finally make my life worth living, when it’s finally too late——that, at least, is what the Book assumes. Stupid fucking book.


Day 235: Stare at this stranger; memorize her features…

Originally scheduled for August 23.

“…should you ever meet her, call her Aubrey and she will tell you a secret.”

A woman sat down next to me on the train. I glanced at her, reflexively, quickly, and went back to the novel I was reading: Faulkner’s Light in August. She settled into the seat, opened a magazine, started reading.

Two stops later, as the train pulled away from the station, I said — neither loudly nor quietly, and without looking up from my reading — “Tell me a secret, Aubrey.”

I waited a beat, and then another, and then turned to look at her. She was staring at me, a look of puzzlement and something that was not quite, or not quite yet, anger — and something else flitting around behind her eyes that I could not identify.

We looked at each other for a moment, and then another, and then she said: “What did you say?”

I said: “I said: ‘Tell me a secret, Aubrey.’ ”

She said: “My name isn’t Aubrey.”

“I’m not sure that matters,” I replied.

She paused, and looked away, and then looked back.

“There are no secrets left,” she said, “no secrets that can be told, anyway, because the telling makes the secret public. It used to be that you could tell a secret to someone, and it would go no further, or go further so slowly that by the time it became what we might public knowledge it didn’t matter anymore, the reasons for keeping it secret had passed or no longer obtained. Now, though, there is no grey area between secret and something everyone knows — once told, the secret takes on a life of its own, contagious, viral, an incorporeal zombie that bites and infects and spreads so fast that one wakes up the morning after telling to find oneself in a wasteland, a world wrecked and forever ruined. And so what secrets I have I will keep to myself, and anyway my name isn’t Aubrey.”

After some amount of time had passed, or maybe as soon as she stopped, I said: “I’m sorry; I’ve had a few drinks too many today.”

“…but it’s 9:30 in the morning,” she said blankly.

“I know,” I said, and went back to my reading.


Jours 205-211: Take this week off and spend it France, acting like the French.

Sunday, July 24, through Saturday, July 30.

The Book had several things for me to do while in France: fight in public, sit in a café all day, sunbathe topless (no problem!), smoke three packs of Gauloises, take a lover, and protest violently against the government. I did not do these things in order, but I attempted all of them.

The first day, I sat at a café, drinking espressos, scribbling away in a notebook, flipping desultorily through Being and Nothingness, and smoking my way through a pack of Gauloises (just one pack, the first day: I planned to work my way up to three by the end of the week). It was a good day, and I felt like I’d accomplished something, even though I really hadn’t.

About three in the afternoon, a man sat down at my table. No worries, I thought: this could be interesting. I made eye contact with him — briefly — as he sat down, gave him a little head nod of greeting, and went back to my Sartre, my coffee, and my cigarettes. After a moment, I felt his eyes on me, and looked up. He was staring at me: an intense, unsettling stare. Unsure of what to do, I offered him a cigarette: he made no response, and continued to stare. I hailed the waiter, and ordered my tablemate an espresso. When it came, he calmly picked it up, and — staring at me all the while — threw it forcefully at the couple at the table next to us. Then he stood up, and calmly walked away.

I was stunned, immobile, unsure if that had actually just happened.

I was brought back to myself by a young man yelling in my ear — obscenities, I assume, but it was all in French, and I don’t speak French. I’m sorry, I said, but I don’t speak French, and I didn’t throw that espresso at you. The man kept yelling, and soon I was yelling too, trying to make myself heard and understood. It didn’t work, of course, and soon the two of us moved beyond words: he pushed, I took a swing, and then: a blur, a scuffle, bodies colliding, then red, and then darkness.

I came back to myself in my hotel, lying naked on my bed, bruised and bloody in places, but I felt worse than I looked. I grunted, sat up, and saw her — the woman from the café. I tensed, which hurt, and so winced. We looked at each other, but said nothing.

She had a bottle of something on the table in front of her, and two glasses. She poured the glasses — a deep amber liquid — lit two Gauloises, and walked over to the bed. She handed me a glass and a cigarette, and sat down next to me…

I woke up late the next morning with the worst headache of my life, and she was gone.

Somehow I made it through the morning and into the afternoon, but I don’t really want to talk about it. I spent the first part of the afternoon — once I felt like a human being again — sitting in a café, drinking espressos, smoking cigarettes, and taking stock of my situation. Sit in a café, fight in public, and take a lover — three tasks down! And I was halfway through my second pack of the day! Nothing like a hangover to make one want to smoke, I guess.

I finished my espresso, bought another pack of Gauloises, and set off in search of a topless beach.

I found one, sort of, somewhere along the Seine — the Paris-Plages, a series of temporary beaches erected during the summer. All sorts of folk were there, but none of the women were topless: apparently it’s not allowed. This made me angry, much angrier than it should have, and before I really knew what I was doing, I’d taken off all my clothes, thrown them into the river, and was shouting anti-government and pro-breast slogans, sprinkled liberally with obscenities.

I think I’d hoped that the people of Paris would rise up, cast off the shackles of their clothes, and join me in a new, naked utopia — but it didn’t happen, obviously. People stared; a few laughed, some took pictures. One dude handed me a bottle of wine at some point. Then the police showed up, and arrested me.

I spent the remainder of my vacation in jail. I was escorted to the airport on Saturday morning, and allowed to board my flight back to the States; I was not, however, allowed to return to my hotel room, and so came home empty-handed, dressed in the jumpsuit I’d been issued when I’d been booked and processed.

I had plenty of time to smoke in jail, though — I went through four packs a day while I was on the inside. Game, set, and motherfucking match, Book. What else you got?


Day 198: Have a good cry.

Originally scheduled for Sunday, July 17.

There are people that enjoy “having a good cry” on occasion: I am not one of those people. Never have been.

I don’t cry at movies. I don’t cry at weddings. I don’t even cry at funerals.

I cried when my children were born. Each time, it was a spontaneous losing of my shit. I though I was prepared the second time around, but no, I wasn’t — I cried more than either of the kids did, and they were the ones transitioning from the comforts of the womb (I guess wombs are comfortable?) to the harsh reality of being alive.

Other than that, I don’t cry. I mean, I’m sure I’ve cried in moments of extreme stress a few times in my adult life, but those were brief moments, and I have no desire to repeat them. I don’t find crying cathartic. Maybe that’s a sign that I should do it more often? How would that work? Have a few drinks, watch a sad movie — but which one? Steel Magnolias? — and maybe drop a hammer on my foot for good measure: that might do it, but only the “have a few drinks” part sounds remotely appealing.

Also, there was that one time that I cried in the shower — but if you haven’t heard that story, you’re out of luck, because it’s not getting told here.


Day 182: Return to childhood.

Let me tell you what I was like as a child: I was a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered, and misanthropic crotchety old man who read too much and played with Legos. That is: exactly the same as I am now.

Done and done: time for a drink.

No, not really. Not really done, I mean — it’s always time for a drink.

One of the other things I did as a child was watch movies: I probably saw the original Star Wars trilogy several hundred times before I was ten (and I’m on the way to seeing it a hundred more times before my son is ten). The difference is that suspension of disbelief used to be par for the course for me when watching a movie. If, as a child, I ever stopped to think how absolutely ridiculous it was for a giant worm — with teeth! — to be living in an asteroid, let alone how absurd it was for there to have been enough of an atmosphere in its intestine for Han and Leia to walk around in street clothes outside the Millennium Falcon —— I say, if such things occurred to me, I ignored them and went back to enjoying the movie. I tried to return to that — that simple, unquestioning, naive engagement with a film — as today’s task.

I went to see Cars 2.

You need to understand that I love Pixar’s movies, all of them — this could be a very long digression, but I’ll just say that I can’t watch the last twenty minutes of Toy Story 3 without someone chopping up onions — also I should say that I have crush on Mrs. Incredible — and Flik’s “I know it’s a rock! I’ve spent a lot of time around rocks!” line is funnier than it should be — you know, if I only had Pixar’s filmography and the films of the Coen brothers to watch, I’d be a happy man ——— anyway, I was saying that I love all of Pixar’s movies, except Cars.

Don’t get me wrong: Cars is better than a lot of other animated films, most of which are nothing more than dog shit run through a projector, but it’s still just okay in terms of the rest of Pixar’s canon. I also cannot — absolutely can not — suspend disbelief while watching it. The reasons why are numerous, but they boil down to cars don’t have opposable thumbs, for fuck’s sake.

And since sequels are usually worse than the films that spawned them — with notable exceptions, of course — I was anticipating having trouble with this task, especially since I’d been informed that Cars 2 was running 34% at Rotten Tomatoes.

I was pleasantly surprised. No, scratch that: I loved it. It’s visually stunning, which we expect — the fly-over shots of London were breathtakingly realistic, though — and Michael Caine was phenomenal, but what sold me was the fact that it’s a spoof of spy movies (just like Burn After Reading, another movie that I love but nobody else does). I’m sure it won’t hold up to repeated viewings, but it might surprise me, and it’ll definitely always be better than the first one — but I had fun, at a movie, which hasn’t happened since…

…well, since last November — since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.

No, wait, I saw Super 8 last week, and it was fantastic. Fun, even, despite the fact that I wasn’t trying not to think about it.

I’m not sure where that leaves us. I guess movies are just more fun the first time, on a giant screen, and so loud we should all be wearing earplugs?

Probably so, yes. I guess I should go to the movies more often.


Day 170: Sell something you have made.

My mother has been pestering encouraging me for years to write a novel, something in a genre that sells: romance, mystery, paranormal romance, mystery romance, paranormal mystery romance. I’ve mostly ignored her, because I don’t have much free time in which to write a novel, and the free time I do have I prefer to spend drinking and sitting around, instead of doing something productive.

A few days ago, she sent me a link to an NYT article about Amanda Hocking, who has self-published ten novels (and counting) as e-books on sites like Amazon, and who has made enough money at it that she can buy a replica of Han Solo in carbonite on a whim.

It’s just a coincidence, of course, but I’m going to run with it. I don’t have anything I’ve made for sale today, but I’m going to pledge to have a novel available for sale by the end of the year. Because why the fuck not?

Way the hell back on day six, I wrote this, as the opening sentence of my début novel:

One morning, Eusebius Jones woke up, brushed his teeth, had a piss, wandered into the kitchen, ate breakfast – two grapefruit and three cups of strong coffee – and then sat at his kitchen table, staring at nothing, trying to decide what he was going to do with the bodies in the trunk of his car.

That’s the opening sentence I’m going to run with. Who is this dude? Why does he have bodies — plural bodies! — in the trunk of his car? What is he going to do with them? What does he have for breakfast when grapefruit is not in season?

I have no idea. I hope the answers are interesting, and I hope I can get a novel out of answering them, either way, and I hope I sell enough copies that I can buy this with the proceeds (one of these would be nice, also).

I am totally serious about this, and I expect all of you who read this to shame me eternally if I don’t have a self-published paranormal-murder-mystery-bodice-ripping-trash-noir novel actually available for purchase by the end of the year.

I won’t, and I won’t be able to handle the shame, so I’ll drink myself to death in 2012. Should be a good year.