I am. I am male. Fifty years old. Of uncertain future. I am a writer.
The longest night of the week, the longest shift, I end up riding down the big breathtaking slope of Wisconsin Avenue from the plateau of The Dying Gaul and the neighboring garden and medieval library toward the river, Georgetown laid out before me. I go down to the river.
I taxi on my bike on the boardwalk in front of the waterfront restaurants. I cross paths with a woman shrouded by a sweat suit top. Is she homeless? I say hi, explaining who I am, why I'm here, after the storm, after a barman's shift, to look at the river, and she speaks with understanding back to me.
Later, after I look in at the hot new restaurant I am getting stories of, its windows dark, its vibe somehow tangible, laid naked in the night for the kind of establishment it is in its heart, an illusion of pleasure bitter in its core--I exaggerate some, in Buddhist mode, and there is nothing inherently evil about serving up a good dining experience to people who feel like getting out of the house, and perhaps I speak more of the service end of things here--that I finally lay my old road bike on its side, take my helmet off, and sit down overlooking the river across at Roosevelt Island, hoping for some sense of why I should be here, in this town, why I should like the old river, the Potomac, itself, why I should find myself here, why or where I might find some primeval taste of nature here after my long shift that began early with real estate agents and ended up with CFOs who, after dinner, always want one more drink, one more drink. "Can I buy you a drink," such men ask, peering at you, looking for a way in, a crack. "I don't know if you remember me..." Oh, yes, I remember you.
Giant steps sit above the river itself. The rats come from the park and take their way down the steps and along them, down to the river, where ducks sleep at four in the morning and small driftwood comes down through the ripples after the big rain, after the strange light in the sky after the big thunderstorm and its torrents.
What do you think of talking to therapists, I ask, of the woman I passed by earlier, who has found some sort of quiet on the same steps above the river. They drop off so that you would not know there are any steps beyond the drop. I saw her slip down into the space earlier, next to the bushes, and wondered if she was, indeed, homeless. Was there something a little unsettled, a little wide eyed, a little cautious, yet still able to handle a stranger... I'd hoped to present myself as harmless, just another soul in need of nature. And when I finally sit down, not far away from her, after talking to the ducks in their own language, my presence is accepted, from 12 or so yards away, too much equipment with me to be a threat.
They can be quite corrosive. What can they do to really help you, how can they change you? Studies show it's good to have a dog, or go for a walk, and these things change your brain and make the chemistry for happiness. What can a therapist do? They waste your time.
You know what? I agree. After getting through a long shift, I agree. I was resourceful and industrious to get to this spot. I dealt with people for ten straight hours.
"How do you feel about rats," the woman asks me, looking over at me. I guess we are on the same big step, three above the waterline, after talking about photography. You could count all the ripples on the river, here diagonally to the other side, the light cast by the tall office buildings of Roslyn. "What don't they turn the lights off," I ask. "There are people working in them still." "Oh, right. Yeah, journalist, financial workers..." The rats are us. They are not our enemies, I've got no problems with them here by the river. I don't go into work, that if they were to run across my feet, just saying, in any place of work, that might be disconcerting. But they don't do that. Here they are. It's summer's first days. They know how to drop down the steps, holding on, reaching down, then flat away. They do not come toward neither me nor her. I see the silhouette of sleepy female ducks curled on the last step platform just an inch above this placid boring slowly moving sea that is as far across as it can be. The mud of that little island that is a break, a fresh breath, closed in upon by city lights.
This is not my town. I add to it as much as anyone, maybe even more. I've found a small niche in it, a place to live, temporary one as they are for all of us. I speak of Maya to my new friend, who is involved with the legal professions. I conclude she is not homeless as I might have suspected. She might seem a little wide eyed, but it turns out she is Canadian. I have a bottle of wine in my bag, but no corkscrew, and she doesn't drink anyway. But, as they say, the world we see is a projection, an appearance to us based on a collective subconscious we all share, and, in addition to that, spiced by our own individual subconscious. Why do I feel this is not my town? Why do I suddenly sense, or rather it slowly dawned on me, as I stood outside the great blank night dull windows of Fiola Mare, that this is not my town, not my match, nothing to do with my own subconscious, but that it makes me always a friendly outsider ready to greet people at its gates, welcome them, but that it makes me one of the better conversationists in the town, though an unsung one... I make the town something else than it is, almost as if it were a college town, or some great city where all people spoke to each other evenly and happily, as rarely happens. I've got all the basic ingredients for such at my beck and call, at my reach, and after expanding out my rays of light, still, thank you very much, I go home after it all, a creature of the night, still wide awake, and people being happy with what I do, their little quiet Mother Theresa of the barroom, they wouldn't want me to fly away. Even as I might bore them by my appearance, and make them ask, "what's he doing here still..."
Well, it's not like I have a girlfriend after all this, not one I know about. And the nearest local restaurateur is basically not the nicest guy in the world, but in it for himself, entertaining as he might immediately seem to be. Do I want to spend my money there? No. I'd prefer to go back to the weird, to the peace that strangers even might find overlooking the river, one male, one female, in the quiet dark of night.
I'm not such a bad guy. I always and ever will approach people gently, not wanting to bother them, but there for them, ready for a conversation, if they too are alone. That's a lot of life. Alone, or able to offer friendliness to a stranger. That's what, one might gather, they don't get in the war-edge torn parts of the world, even though they would but can't break out. Make one tribe wait on the other. Make that tribe go and wait back on the first. That would fix things. Nelson Mandela once told a story saying as much to friend of mine, Jeffrey.
There are some people--is that the way to say it? There is a mode of what people do now, one that makes certain people look at what I do, that kind of gentle bridging of the gap between cultures and strangers and minds, and ask, something like, "why don't you have any self-confidence?" That was a jarring moment of my life. I suppose I had to write about it, being unable to change my dumb-fuck-ed-ness. That's what you get. Able to talk to anyone, to meet anyone on the path, and you get that. Like, what are you doing with your own life/ Are you weak?
I never took that as a sign of weakness. Being humble and agreeable, and, that final high talent that goes unsung, being able to, god forbid, wait on people, meet then in and out, strangers, weirds, drunks, normals, high and mighty, low and pensioner, even other restaurant people, who are able to say to the dismissive, 'we have families too.'
I guess, coming on the train, sad, mourning, lost, I pictured Washington DC as the town of, say, someone like Bobby Kennedy's sort of a ghost if you had to build the consciousness you'd want. Or maybe that of Lincoln, and his ghost, who too might come sit over the river the middle of the night after one of this mid-atlantic swamp thunderstorms.
I don't know what I was thinking. I came, I arrived. It's been the same ever since, not much headway, a place to live, best friends asking me, what I'm going to do with myself... Where you gonna live when you're old?
The week has ended. The last shift, busy, was the least tricky of all. I get home, on bike, and start the laundry. My hands smell like Shout, after spraying the inner collars of Brooks Brothers shirts and the spots of stains that might have fallen upon them. There is wine. Red. Chinon. There is the red road bike on the stand for a fifty minute roll. There is memory of the yoga class on Sunday morning outside, the soreness gone by now, very early Thursday morning. It was very hot before. Now the air is clear, and here, on the quiet street, with the earthen bank, in the early light, there is a vague memory of camp ground and trees rising from dirt and undergrowth.
I have all the windows open, the fans on of air conditioner window units to help. I turn the lights off of the vestibule. The neighbor, upstairs, will wake, soon enough. I have no desire for an encounter, to have to explain the far bounds I've reached in my service to humanity, and even to him it might make little sense. The city, at 6:20 AM, has begun to move, and I hear a truck sail by whistling through the wind down on Massachusetts Avenue below, moving eastward. A bird with two note punctuation sings from a tree. I've watched a bit of a Herzog thing found on Netflix about fur trappers in the taiga, Siberia, and it made me want to adjust.
At the end of the week, flashes go by. I have memory of a Siberian Husky type of dog running along the fur trapper's snowmobile over the frozen river from day into night, not ceasing to run. How can I explain that to people. I remember the first sort of tap on the shoulder of the very first customer of the week as I sat and wrote the chef's dinner specials out on my little pad of paper. Listening to everyone's talk, being their therapist, their ear, certainly takes so much energy.
I'm told of certain things, on Monday and Tuesday, and I forget what they just were, though I remember who told them to me. I still am attached to the idea that our blood-types have so much to do with not only how we should eat, what we should watch out for as far as health issues, what exercise we might best engage in, but in how we think, what we are attracted to. No way around it: a type O will think differently than an A, than a B. Literary critics are too confined to acknowledge the basic physics of literature. To wit, my type A economist friend--what you expect from him--can only squash my humorist enthusiasm for the life of the Taiga Siberian fur trapper with immediate discouragement that goes with being of the Agrarian phase of humanity, all in good humor. "Where are the museums, the culture, the jobs..." he asks. He's a man of good humor, some of it sarcastic, so, sure, that was my point, get a chuckle out of life, that brief moment of a broader view from our little dugouts of life. It doesn't get far with him at his hour of day, even with a glass of champagne, an onion tart, and a glass of Bordeaux trickling down into him as he resides quietly over a cheese plate. "Maybe if you had a really good wine cellar..." I can totally see his point. But the beauty of being in nature, and being self-dependent in it, seems to hang in my vision as I bring the work part of my foolish week to a close.
The copy of The Bhagavad Gita sits on my bed cover still, after buying it at Kramer's after my little Monday morning therapy session.
What was Jay telling me, what was Jay saying... telling me what I might do with my life now that it is here where it is....
There is no doubt to me, Hemingway, to me, certainly a Type O, needed action to write. He needed to write, and so he needed activity and things to do, places, weather. Because of that he needed to write. He needed the material, and then he needed, or rather, enjoyed, simply, the prose. There is still lots of discrimination against such people who have to live life that way, action on the one hand, experience the bridge, prose, thought, digestion in the mind on the other.
A writer has as much a chance as anyone to make some figurings on the nature of reality, sort of like Einstein, or the Buddha. How can nature be aligned so that the inner world is perfectly reflected by the outer world in this strange trip of ours called life?