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 204: Be completely serious.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, July 23.

I am always serious. I am, as they say, all business.

That is a thing that they say, people, and they say it with good reason.

Once upon a time, children, I went on a road trip, from north Texas to Idaho. I went with two friends — whose names won’t be mentioned — and we drove straight through, without stopping, in three-hour shifts. It was a good time, after a certain fashion.

Somewhere in western Montana or southeastern Idaho, we stopped at a gas station. Inside the gas station, there was a casino — a small one, obviously. My friends wanted to play the slots; I said no, and not just no but hell no. It was, for the record, sometime after midnight.

That was the first strike, as it were. Our stay in Idaho — we were there to check out Diedrich Manufacturing, makers of fine coffee roasters, because we were in our early twenties and going through our let’s open a coffeeshop phase — I say, our stay was uneventful. Enjoyable, even.

On the way home, though, somewhere in the middle of the country — it all looks the same after you’ve driven through it enough — we pulled off the highway and into some field for some reason that is still unknown to me. I was asleep at the time, in the backseat, and woke up to find us in the middle of a goddamn field, with a goddamn horse nibbling on the hood of the car.

Apparently, I said Why are we in a field, and why are there horses?!

Since then, well, everyone has known that I’m all business. Always.

Day 196: Mannerisms day.

Originally scheduled for Friday, July 15.

I actually did this, sort of, on the day it was scheduled.

Friday was the last day of our seminar, and we needed to unwind. So five of us — myself, Bethany, Julianne, Kristina, and Charles (minus the dux clamores) — the Team of the White Moose of the People —— the five of us drove down to Santa Fe.

We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which is usually full of O’Keeffes (paintings, not relatives), but which currently has instead a fascinating exhibit on American Modernist painting and photography, and specifically the relationship between the two, and the use of photographs as sketches. I have a new respect for Norman Rockwell, having seen what went in to The Soda Jerk.

We wandered around the plaza, downtown Santa Fe. We walked the labyrinth in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis (we couldn’t go inside the church, unfortunately, because it was being used for a marathon of wedding rehearsals). We went to Rooftop Pizza — we had a pizza with smoked duck on it — to eat and drink and be merry. It was a good day.

Anyway, on the drive into Santa Fe, Bethany asked me what the day’s task was. I told her, and then my colleagues started identifying my mannerisms. The big one is the sigh — a sort of exasperated sigh preceded by a short pause, which is my response to anyone asking me anything. My wife knows the sigh well, and it has sparked more than one argument between us. Apparently there’s also a sigh/grunt variation, but I can’t reproduce that one on demand like I can the original. I also make a specific hand gesture — not this one — when I’m talking, especially when I’m trying to explain or talk my way through something. The gesture is the one you’d make when saying “it’s about three inches long” — and I’ll leave it to your imagination what is about three inches long.

Those were the only of my mannerisms that were enumerated, either because those are the only ones I have, or (much more probably) because my friends got bored pointing them out and started talking about something else. Because I do have a few others: I stroke my beard; I rub the place on my finger where my wedding ring used to be, before I lost it, because I constantly took it off to fiddle with it; I scowl — but maybe that’s not a mannerism? —; I speak in incomplete sentences.

My mannerisms aren’t interesting — obviously, because less than half of this post was about them. Sorry. I’m just not an interesting guy.

Day 191: an update

Q at Cadillac Ranch.

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 123: Learn an emergency medical procedure.

Some number of years ago, when I was unattached and foolhardier than I am now, I took a break from my life and went on a cross-country backpacking trip. I had a big frame-pack, a one-person tent, an all-seasons sleeping bag, et cetera. I meandered across the countryside, without any sort of agenda, camping out in fields when I couldn’t find a campground, doing an occasional bit of day labor when I pass through a town.

Passing through one of those towns, I met a… let’s call her a traveling companion. We got to talking over drinks; turned out she was doing the same sort of thing I was, wandering the country aimlessly. We decided to wander together for a while.

I had some cash, so we got a room at a cheap motel – partly because it was getting late to find a place to pitch the tent, but mostly because I hadn’t showered in several weeks. (I would ‘have a bathe’ when I found a decent creek or cow pond, but that’s not the same as hot running water.) The next morning, we set off: I’d wandered in from the south-east, and she’d come from the north-east, so it seemed only right – though hopelessly cliché at the same time – that we went west.

Things were good for a few weeks: it was nice having someone to travel with, someone to talk to – someone funny and kind and incredibly attractive. We hiked through some beautiful country, too; sparsely populated, but we kept running across farmers and their salt-of-the-earth farmer’s wives, and they all insisted on putting us up for the night and feeding us – and holy shit, the eggs and the bacon and the steaks, best food I’ve ever eaten – and sending us off the next day laden down with food.

At some point we passed through a town: it had a bar, we had some cash, so we had a few drinks – by which I mean ‘a few too many’. We stumbled back to the tent, which we’d had the foresight to pitch in a wooded area on the outskirts of town. Crawled into our sleeping bags, fumbled around drunkenly for a bit, passed out.

It was still dark out when she woke me up, shaking me none too gently. She had a bottle of tequila; no idea where it came from.

“Drink this,” she said, pouring tequila into my mouth.

I was still half-asleep, and more than half-drunk, and so the only thing that came out of my mouth (aside from a fair amount of the tequila) was incoherent noise.

“I have to circumcise you,” she said.

That didn’t really register, and so I didn’t struggle when she started removing my pants. When she dumped tequila on my penis, though, I started to wonder what was going on – and when she pulled the knife out, well, I started to flip the fuck out.

She was kneeling on my legs, which made it hard to move, and she worked fast – I’m not sure I want to know where she learned to do what she did – but she sliced my foreskin off before I had time to put up a fight. She poured some more tequila on it – which burned like lemon juice in a paper cut, except a lot fucking worse – threw a towel on my bloody, boozy junk, and walked away from the tent quickly and purposefully, a bloody knife in her right hand, my bloody foreskin in her left.

I’m not sure why – or how, really – I followed her, but I did, naked from the waist down, barefoot, bloody towel clutched to my crotch. She stopped a few hundred yards from the tent, and I stopped maybe a dozen yards behind her. There was a man there, a big dude, lots of hair, beard so massive it looked like a bear cub attached to his face. I nearly shit myself, which would have been fine at that point, since I had no pants on.

She threw the foreskin – my foreskin – at the dude’s feet, turned around, and walked silently back to the tent. If she saw me, and she must have, she didn’t acknowledge me. Dude and I stared at each other for a long moment, then he gave the slightest of smiles, turned, and walked off into the night. Away from the town, not toward it. I stood there a while longer, then went back to the tent. The bleeding had stopped – it hadn’t bled much, actually, she did a good job – so I put clothes back on, finished off the tequila, and went back to sleep.

We didn’t talk about what had happened, the next morning or any time after. About a week after that, uh, incident, I decided to head home. Our parting was unceremonious, and I never saw her again.

I miss my foreskin to this day, and I still have no idea what the fuck actually happened that night.