It marks the end of the holidays, a holiday staff luncheon downtown at a Brazilian steak house. I come from seeing my therapist, walking down from Metro Center on a day cold and rainy, my hood pulled over my head covered in a winter cap. Reluctant, not in the mood for it, but I show up, wondering the fate that has thrown me in with this group. In the end I use the john upstairs and depart alone, feeling the usual urge to walk a street over to enter Ford's Theater, The Lincoln Museum and visit with small bed in the boarding house where he died. This year, I find myself walking briefly through the H & M on the way to the Metro. A very neat young man from a Christian organization is looking through work slacks. I wander through, detached, in no need of cheap style, disposable clothes, black, white, pink, gold, glitter, back out into the grey rainy street.
Earlier, a holiday quiet about the town, Dr. H. comes down from the second floor of the office building, as the foyer is dark, to open the outer door with her data card, and I follow behind her up the stairwell.
If the first book is about the creation of exile, of being made a deviant tacitly, then the next book must be about redemption. In Joseph Campbell terms, the hero leaves the village and goes out into the wilds. Out there, the hero learns something, endures trials, and then one day, the fates allow him to come back. Literature, spiritual and otherwise, is full of exile, Jonah and Job, a whole people.
I tell the doctor about Dostoevsky, Notes From The Dead House, the camp he's sent off to for having the wrong friends. He disguises the fact he is a political prisoner, a good forward to the book will tell you, to get past the censor. He observes people and things in this penal colony, and one of his thoughts he writes is that it is often the most gifted and talented men you'll find in such a place.
It's a long day by the time I come up the metro escalator back in the old neighborhood. I look in the window of the bookstore, my eye on the new translation of the above mentioned book, but move on, up past the watch shop I forgot to stop into looking for a new watchband for an old watch, into The Haircuttery, finding the waiting room upstairs full, not feeling up for the waiting, past the teahouse for a looseleaf tea, and when I get back, after checking in with mom, whom I just saw, taking her home after the holidays, the long drive there and back, I need a nap to digest, and then a long time staring at the ceiling to let my thoughts form. Checking my iPhone I am almost distracted away from making any effort to write by postings on Facebook and thoughts how to handle on-line dating.
So do you think you're in exile, the therapist asks. Well, yes, that's the restaurant business, the odd hours, the sense you cannot escape of waiting to live your actual life. Sure, you're friendly with a many people, a fine social network, and I have the best, but at the end of the night, what do you come back to, home to?
I was such a sweet kid, my mom says, as we look through all photographs, the beautiful house built up a winding country road of woods and farm fields, one of three houses. Yes, what happened to that sweet kid who even carried a little briefcase with him onto the school bus.
I refrain from the wine but for giving it a swirl and a nose and a minuscule sip, blocking any refill. Dutifully I ask for the rarer cuts, pulling them off as the waiter brings the vertical sword skewers of top sirloin and bottom and filet mignon and leg of lamb and roast beef. I smile, ask a few questions of my guys about their recent travels, one to Austin to help his girlfriend move, one to Orlando with his, her parents backing out at the last minute. The meat is chewed and eaten, desserts finally come, a little word from the boss about it being a good year, a good team, not the greatest praise, but hey, it's business, a couple of group of photos, earlier, Secret Santa along the long table.
Back at the restaurant, the work is never done, until late. The break from the night shift feels odd, but I'll take it, lazing around. It's better to write in the earlier part of the day, when words are fresher, but this today was time spent with that curious helper listener in an office, in a way a dissipation of the energy if you talk what you'd wish to write.
Christmas is always too much, now with children added into the mix as I shepherd mom along through her visit. I was lucky to have the time to take her back, not wanting her to suffer the long train ride and the hotel and the long cab ride, and the weather held out.
What does it look like when you come back from exile, she asks, the doctor. I don't know, something about teaching... A way to understand the writing of the first book, the sustained effort despite the physical tolls of tending bar to be a person of letters...
Why the exile, but over the most foolish and haphazard things, like turning left instead of right, unforgiving world that it can be with all the more direct and self-centered people with their human agendas to see put through into actualization. Add a few small mistakes, that's all it takes. And then the doors are shut and you're out there with nothing but your own resources, and how did it get that way? Opportunities not seized upon, that sort of thing.
But these things, like exiles, are the sorts of things that writers are curious about, drawn to, not that they like them. Like deeper questions, what makes the prisoner in the camp different from us, or the same. Judge another, through examining their behavior, we must, making choices and judgments, and women can be passive of course, not giving the guidance they might when your own mind becomes clouded and confused, hurt by something taken ultimately the wrong way. The kid got his papers in late, what can you do? Some deeper seriousness possessed him in these matters. The teachers did not stop to ask, what was going on with him, calling it 'academic trouble.'
Driving back from the snowy north country, the sun coming through the clouds to alight the snowy woods and the fields, flat country with distant hills, I think of James Dean growing up in Indiana, his visits home to the farm, snow-covered ground, the land of his boyhood. It's not easy to live in Lake Effect snow country, but I miss it. I loved snow as a child.
East of Eden comes on the television after I've drafted my little draft here. The place needs to be picked up. I pour myself a little wine to soothe the night, not too much, getting the cooked chicken breast out of the refrigerator.