My poor, neglected website. Like a withered houseplant waiting for my return from vacation. I’m blaming it on the move. My personal narrative, the ongoing story I tell myself, has unraveled. My head can’t thread anything together; everything is reduced to a series of to-do lists.
1. Moving estimate. Done
2. One-way ticket to New York. Not done.
3. Change of address form. Not done.
4. Etc. Not done. (Anybody want to buy a great car? 2003 Subaru Forester X. Less than 10,000 miles. Email me.)
The school’s housing office is taking its damn sweet time assigning me an apartment. I have no address, no move-in date. I’m practicing patience and consoling myself with small markers of the passing time. I now have a Columbia e-mail address, and I’ve been receiving announcements of literary events and readings in New York (which, of course, I cannot yet attend. But I feel better, just knowing they are there.) I pre-registered for the fall semester’s classes: a workshop, a “Writer as Teacher” seminar, and a lecture in 20th Century Literary Nonfiction. I’ll pick an elective when I get there. This weekend I’ll get a couple of passport photos taken for my student ID.
This is the longest goddamned good-bye of my life. I was accepted to the program on March 12th. Four months later, and I still have a month to go. If one more person asks me when I am leaving, I’ll just…I’ll just…have to deal with it.
Last weekend I flew to D.C. My father was retiring after thirty years with the government, and since he and his partner are moving to the Tahoe area about the same time that I head to New York, it seemed a good time to visit before we once again switch coasts. I tried to hold my own, making small talk with his co-workers at the retirement party, balancing a cup of fruit punch and a paper plate with a slice of sheet cake in my hands. It was kind of sweet, actually; people got up and made speeches about my dad; giving me a glimpse into a side of his life that I’ve never really known. Later I helped him carry a few boxes of personal belongings out to the car. I think he was a little sad; that weekend he kept referring to his job in the present tense, and his partner would correct him, using the past tense.
That night I took the Metro to Dupont Circle and met up with a few good men; Jimbo and Chris and Bob. We went to a restaurant that had a waterfall for a urinal. It intimidated me, so I used the toilet. Bob had the Atkins burger. It came wrapped in lettuce. I’ve been trying the low-carb thing, but it mostly makes me sad. So I had curry chicken. With rice.
Later we squeezed into the Green Lantern just in time for the shirtless drink specials. At ten the bartenders pulled off their t-shirts and tank tops, followed quickly by the entire bar. Except me, of course. I was self-conscious about the last five pounds I can never seem to shed, probably because I keep ordering rice dishes. Plus it had been five whole days since I last hit the gym. I told myself that I kept my shirt on because I wanted to save my nakedness for someone special. But that was a lie. Mostly.
I can get stubborn. One night, back when I was bartending, a drunken customer kept insisting that I take off my shirt. When I refused he started offering me cash. Five dollars, ten. I think he got up to thirty before he quit. I kept my shirt on. By that point it was the principle of the matter, something that won’t get you very far as a bartender.
Next day I grabbed coffee with Bob and we talked for about four hours. Later he walked me to Mimi’s, where I met up with my dad and his partner for dinner. Someone started playing the piano and each of the wait staff took a turn serenading the entire restaurant with old Cole Porter songs. Some of them had better voices than others. I picked up the tab, which I think kind of embarrassed my dad and his partner. But I insisted. Again with the principles. “Happy Thirty Years,” I said.
During my visit I learned of some bad news. The kind of news I could write an entire book about, if it didn’t hurt so much. It hit me like a truck. I did my best to be a good son, but unlike my dad I don’t hide my sadness very well. They tried to distract me, dragging me to the new WW II memorial and later, to Spiderman 2. But I don’t distract easily. I sat with the sadness, twisting it around like a puzzle, as if there would be a solution, some intricate combination of moves that would separate each color from the others; everything in its place. After the movie I went up to the guest bedroom, closed the door, and climbed in bed, where I lay in the dark for three or four hours. I don’t distract. I dwell.
Later I emerged, a bit of my energy restored, just in time for Wheel of Fortune. “Pat’s hair has gotten bigger”, I said, which broke the tension a bit. My father solved every single puzzle with only one or two letters revealed. I thought I was good, but he blew me out of the water. He was an editor for thirty years, as was my mother’s father, so I must have inherited something from both sides of the family, though my father tells everyone that I am the “creative” one, a word almost as suspicious as “interesting”.
Later that night I had a total Woody Allen moment. I’ll admit it now: I had an hour phone session with my therapist, who was back in San Francisco. It was that kind of night.
The trip home, two flights and a layover, lasted about nine hours. I suppose it’s an indication of my mental state that I only read about ninety pages of Portrait of a Lady. I probably could have used Stephen King, but I’m trying to gear up for the Ivy League. Now whenever someone asks I can say “Ah, yes, Henry James…”
When I got home there was an email from my dad:
I’m forwarding a message from Hank B-, who was the bearish looking man about my age who came to my retirement party late and talked to you near the end. He’s visiting New York in a couple of months and asked for your e-mail address, and I didn’t want to be the one to give it to him. You can decide whether to or not (and I told him that). I don’t know Hank really well, but my sense is, well, that he’s a letch! I don’t think you’d have any reason to want to spend time with him, but if you want to, you can send him your e-mail address.
Sometimes having a gay dad is cool.
Recently my student dentist gave me a book when he graduated. “For being such a good patient,” he said, meaning I was a damn good guinea pig. He gave me Eats, Shoots & Leaves, a title that reminds me of a boyfriend I had in college.
And thus the long good-bye continues. One more week of work (rock!) then I’m headed down to LA for a weekend to see my buddy Brian in his new digs. My jet-set life glimmers like cubic zirconia.