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 201: Become a contemporary artist.

By itself, this doesn’t make any sense: a “contemporary artist” is just an artist working now, and how could I do anything else?

Fortunately, the Book provides a few “ideas” for its readers, which give one an idea of the sort of thing it means.

A two-meter test tube filled with semen, containing billions and billions of spermatozoa. A canvas filled with nothing but the artist’s signature, over and over. “A feminist video installation featuring nuns discussing their sexual fantasies about Jesus” — although that’s been done, after a fashion. Similarly, a performance piece involving a monk who has taken a vow of chastity lying in bed with two female nymphomaniacs — which has been done, ad nauseum.

The best one, though, is a supercomputer that connects two phone numbers at random, and records the conversation: this “the best” because these things already exist, and we’ve been down this road before. It’s a fun road, so I did it again.

For the record: “asl” means “age/sex/location,” and I hate conversations about those things.

I have no sense of humor. Very funny.

There was — of course! — a better conversation before this one, but it was lost. Alas! And I lied in this one, which I try to avoid doing. It has its moments, though, despite not being nearly as good as the one before, in which I turned the conversation to hedgehogs after ten minutes of nonsense.

Fucking hedgehogs — they make everything funnier.

Day 191: Bury a treasure.

Just west of Amarillo on Interstate 40, there’s a place called Cadillac Ranch.

It’s not, as I half-convinced one of my colleagues, the place where they grow the baby Cadillacs. It’s an art installation, consisting of Cadillacs half-buried in a field in the middle of the Texas panhandle.

It’s also a great place to bury deposit treasure.

…except I didn’t actually deposit the treasure. There are several reasons for this failure on my part, none of which are acceptable. First of all, the Ranch was crawling with people, and hiding a treasure in front of a crowd of strangers isn’t the best idea. Then, the place we stopped for lunch wasn’t where the map said it was — and the map said it was right down the road from the Ranch, which would have been quite convenient — it was, instead, five miles back the way we’d come, so we had to turn around. Also, we were in — not a hurry, exactly, but we weren’t making unnecessary stops on the trip out, and are planning on stopping when we drive back through next Sunday.

…I’m not sure that all made sense, but I don’t care. Why should I bother making unacceptable excuses when they’re prima facie unacceptable?

Next Sunday, crowds or no crowds, I will deposit the treasure. I won’t reveal what it is until then, but I will say that it’s something small and plastic and from my childhood, and it’s not — I hope, anyway — going to track me down and kill me.

Day 177: Try seducing someone way out of your league.

So, earlier today I was at [redacted], attending [function where this sort of thing is very out of place]. I saw [redacted] in the crowd, with whom I have the slightest of acquaintances, due to [redacted]. She looked even more stunning than usual, which is saying something. I approached her, abandoning my wife.

Me: You looking stunning.

Her: [a bit startled]: Thank you…

Me: Even more stunning than usual, which is saying something. I always enjoyed seeing you at [redacted].

Her: Uh…

Me: That dress is amazing. It really accentuates your [redacted], and your [redacted] looks fabulous. Have you been working out?

Her: [polite but cold smile]

Me: Look, this [function] is going to be a waste of our time. Let’s get out of here, go have a few drinks.

Her: I’m not sure—

Me: Let me cut to the chase. I want to have sex with you.

Her: [shocked, open-mouthed stare]

Me: Should I take that as a yes? [pause] You see, I’m blogging through this Book—

Her: [forceful slap]

People around us: [suddenly silent and staring]

Me: [pause, then—]: Alright, seriously, just once, I think it could  be a lot of fun—

[when suddenly—]

Her husband: [smashing right cross to the side of my head]

Me: [sudden loss of consciousness]

[Cut to black. Fade in, new scene: a ditch, between a small two-lane highway and a field. There are cows. It’s dusk.]

Me: [slowly regaining consciousness in the ditch.]

[long pause]

Me: Well, that didn’t work out like I’d hoped…

[long pause; cattle lowing in the distance, off-screen]

Me: [staggering to my feet, looking around trying to get my bearings]: Where the fuck am I?

[a car passes]

[I start walking east]

[fade to black, roll credits]

Day 166: Get a famous person to autograph this page.

I am not the sort of person who runs in to famous people: for one thing, I don’t live in a place with a high concentration of famous people — I live in a place with no famous people — and for another, I avoid large crowds and busy areas as much as I can, and one doesn’t usually run across a famous person in the middle of nowhere. I never have, anyway.

So: since a famous person wasn’t going to come to me, and I wasn’t going to go hunt down a famous person, I decided instead to send the page to a famous person, using the magic of the United States Postal Service. Which famous person, though?

I could go into a long disquisition on what fame is, and what it means to be famous, and what sort of person “counts” as a “famous person” — but my heart isn’t in it. Suffice it to say, the person I chose isn’t famous in the way that Matt Damon or Jeff Bridges or the Coen brothers (I watched True Grit last night, can you tell?) are famous, but he’s a damn sight more famous than I am, and he’s been called out by Glenn Beck, which has to count for something.

I chose the famous-in-certain-circles Mr. David Malki ! — and the exclamation point is supposed to be there, in the manner of ?uestlove and Dr. Robert Smith? — proprietor of Wondermark and one of the editors of Machine of Death, among other things. He has a beard, which is important to me, and seems like the sort of dude who would actually honor this sort of odd request from a stranger (and by seems like I mean seems like as far as one can tell about someone you’ve never met in person and based solely on that person’s online existence, which was the subject of a recent Wondermark).

I wrote him a letter, I sent him the page torn out of the Book, I included a self-addressed stamped enveloped (as an aside: the abbreviation SASE has always seemed to me like it should refer to something else) — and I’m hoping for the best.

I’ll keep you posted.

Day 162: Make prolonged eye contact with everyone you meet.

I made this more fun by not saying anything.

Most of the people I tried this with just refused to play: they’d studiously avoid my gaze once they figured out that I was some sort of silent, stare-y nutjob. That was no fun, though I did get thrown out of a grocery store after staring down a checker.

I needed a challenge, a worthy opponent, and I was at a loss. I thought about going to bar, but attempting to stare down a drunken stranger on a Saturday night sounded like a plan that would not end well for me.

Then, I remembered: Day 100. The eight-dollar bill. The barista who never laughs.

The staring.

I went back. I was fortunate: there was no line, and my nemesis was working the front register. She’s not actually my nemesis, you understand: I just said that for effect. I’m sure she’s nice, aside from the not-laughing. Besides, my nemesis is my doppelgänger, “William Wilson“-style, except I drink instead of gambling.

Anyway. I walked up to the counter. She said hello, asked what she could get me, waited. I stared. She stared. I stared. She —— well, you get the picture.

We attracted a small crowd — the other baristas, mostly, who started handing us shots of espresso, and we downed them while still staring at one another, and then there were more shots, and soon I felt like we were Marion and that bald Nepalese dude in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and I wasn’t sure which of the two I was.

I once had something upwards of a dozen shots of espresso over the course of an eight-hour shift, more than half of them during the last hour. I felt okay afterward, maybe a little shaky, and I wanted to nap and couldn’t, but it wasn’t really that bad. We got to nine shots, my nemesis and I, and I felt great, and she started looking queasy. We got to ten, then eleven, and then——

Well, she vomited. In a projectile manner. On me, obviously, because I was across the counter from her.

Vomit is never pleasant, but some sorts are more not-pleasant than others. You’ve all had to deal with vomit, so I won’t elaborate. Too-much-espresso vomit is, I think, the worst vomit there is, because it still smells like espresso, and espresso is a good smell, and vomit is not a good smell — so there’s some conflict going on, olfactorily speaking. Plus there’s vomit.

I managed to hold my ground, mostly out of shock, but it must have looked good: I mean, this woman just vomited on me, and I’m still staring her down. I don’t look down at my vomit-covered shirt and pants, I don’t recoil in disgust, I just keep staring. She starts crying, runs to the back room. Not the first time I’ve made someone cry in a Starbucks.

Everyone else just stared at me. I think someone offered me a towel, but I’m not sure. I made eye contact with each and every one of them — prolonged eye contact, of course — and then walked out.

I drove about a half-mile down the road, stopped the car, got out, stripped my clothes off, and set them on fire.

It was the only way to be sure.