Denny’s, Dating

It feels ridiculous that this crossed my mind when it did but last night I was walking in Coral Gables, a kinda bougie part of Miami that houses my favorite bar, and I started trading messages with Rosie – the companion I’m both dating and broken up with – and she mentioned being in the mood for a 2 a.m. visit to IHOP, a latenight breakfast, and being, myself, a 27-year-old who can’t stay awake that late anymore I asked, since it was only 8 p.m., if she’d like to meet me in the Gables and we could go to Denny’s. She said yeah, and joined me, and after a greasy dinner we were talking toward the garage where she’d parked, it’s a little past 9 p.m., and she points up toward these lighted windows above the garage where we can see TVs flicker in the windows and people smoking on balconies, little hubbubs of life, and she mentioned how great it’d be to live there: the beauty of the area, the convenience, the liveliness.
And I’ve always been obsessed with the Gables. They’ve got lotsa bars and two bookstores and a movie theater, all within a half-mile radius. It’s glorious. And I’ve held for a few years now that it’d be a dream to live there.
I should mention, too, that in our text messages from earlier in the evening, and then again over dinner, we were venturing into this dangerous game that probably isn’t doing us any good: we were talking about what it might be like to live together. About maybe getting a pet and what that pet might be and what we’d name it. Shit like that – which is asinine, cuz I’m leagues from being in the headspace for that kinda lifestyle, but still. It’s titillating to imagine. Romantic. You feel inflated.
So we’d been having that type of conversation, our stomachs are full and we’re in a good mood, we’re strolling by ourselves down a beautifully-lit neighborhood on a weeknight, it feels like the town is ours. And then, by chance, she literally points directly up toward a building where, since the moment I got outta college, I’ve been taking tipsy latenight strolls and looking up and imagining what it’d be like to live there.
And so suddenly I start thinking about her and me living together in one of those places – which, again, feels outlandish to imagine because obviously we’re not in the most stable situation right now, but it also felt…not outlandish.
She points up to the window, and I follow her gaze. I see the building, the lights, the lifestyle on display, and when she mentions how nice it’d be to live there I thought, with such patient resolve, I’ll get there.

Which, in order to explain what exactly that thought was all about, requires some backstory:
One of my heroes growing up was Bret Easton Ellis, a novelist who’s mostly famous for writing American Psycho and whose work I still follow. When I was sixteen I wrote a raving review on Goodreads for his first novel, Less Than Zero, and then like three years ago, outta the blue, one of his publisher’s PR people found my review online, sent me a message saying that Ellis would be having a private Q&A at a South Beach penthouse, and asked if I’d like to join.
So I got my shit together, I went to the event on Collins Ave, had to park a mile away from the destination and then walk there through a drizzle. Showed up soaking wet. Had a drink at the hotel bar and then, when it was time, went up to the penthouse – where, sure enough, there were a couple dozen sophisticated-looking thirty- and fortysomethings, almost all of them in business attire, eating hors d’ouvres and getting small drinks from an open bar sponsored by Bombay while Ellis himself, a dude over whose work I’d pored and obsessed for more than a decade at this point, was standing by himself on the balcony, looking awkward, nursing a cocktail, looking…not quite like he didn’t wanna be there, but almost like he just didn’t know what to do.
And I was already kinda tipsy at this point cuz I’d had a couple beers downstairs but, still nervous and out-of-my-element, I went to the open bar, got a shot of gin, and then – the youngest and most conspicuously underdressed person at the party, in my jeans and redcheckered shirt – went onto the balcony and talked with Ellis for fifteen minutes or so, without any single person coming up to beg his attention.
He was friendly. He’d just finished a long interview with Quentin Tarantino to promote Hateful Eight, and so we talked about that and about Eli Roth and Twitter and modern horror (he was upset by how “atmospheric” and un-violent the genre’s become) and it was a shit-my-pants experience of bliss. That the guy I looked up to for so long is right here in front of me, happy to have a conversation about random stuff that we’re both really passionate about, and he’s not an asshole.
But so eventually we’re called inside cuz he’s gotta do the Q&A.
We do the Q&A, everybody’s having a good time, and then it’s over. Ellis goes onto the balcony where it’s gray and windy, and we all line up to go outside, one at a time, to have him sign our books or whatever, and to maybe get a picture if we want one.
Ellis on the left, uncomfortable, me on the right, drunk and underdressed.
At this point I’m drunk. I’ve had about three shots of gin and the two beers from downstairs and I’m kinda wavering in line, wishing I was wearing a suit, and with nobody to talk to I looked around at the other people who’d shown up and – in that cloistered, drunken, in-my-headness – I started resenting them. Everybody looked so much more put-together, so much more calm than me, and they also just…didn’t seem all that impressed to be here with a guy who, in my estimation, was a really great writer.
So I’m getting kinda heated and bummed and in all of that frustration I start looking at the décor of this penthouse, with its ancient-looking furniture and darkwood everything, and I feel – suddenly – this almost violent surge of ambition. It was like everyone else’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude about being here with a writer who’d shaped so much of my upbringing (I talk about it at length in this essay about Ellis’s directorial debut) as a personal offense.
Ahdunno. I was drunk, it was stupid. But my chest swelled and I looked around and said to myself that I would be in this situation one day. The writer of note.
Stupid divide-and-conquer kinda shit. But it came to mind and I’ve never forgotten that feeling. That willingness to swear to myself, and probably to anyone who’d care to hear it, that I was gonna work really hard and write a buncha great shit and that someday I’d be the guest at a penthouse like this one, doing a Q&A, standing awkwardly on a balcony and talking horror movies with a nervous and overzealous twentysomething.

Then there’s this other thing, and then one more thing, before we get back to the moment with Rosie: I adore a series of books by Mark Z. Danielewski called The Familiar. Wrote a review of it here for Open Letters Monthly. It’s a 27-volume novel. The original plan was to release two volumes a year for thirteen years. Danielewski had been working on them for ten years before the first book even came out. Five volumes were released, all on schedule, and then last year the books were put on pause. They weren’t selling enough.
But Danielewski’s got a devoted readership, and a couple thousand of us participate on this Facebook book club where he chimes in once in a while for a Q&A.
Danielewski and me in 2017.
The Facebook thing is an effort to build a community of followers so that Danielewski can have some leverage in getting the series started up again. What he’s doing in his workspace, apart from that, is whatever he can do to build up that personal brand and thereby subsidize the project’s survival. (His project’s enormity was such an inspiration for Thousand Movie Project, when I met Danielewski in Miami a couple years ago I asked him to sign the coverpage of the first notebook I filled with Thousand Movie Project essays.)
A few days ago he posted, in his Instagram story, some pictures of himself at a long table in what looked like a boardroom or, more likely, a writers’ room. He didn’t say anything about what he’s up to, but when somebody asked him about it during a recent Q&A he just dropped a smiling emoji. Stayed coy. Then somebody asked about the status of The Familiar, and of what the book club would be able to read next since we’ve now gone through all of his work, and he was basically like (I’m paraphrasing), “Just trust me, things are happening. Stay tuned.”
There’s something authoritative in the way he’s keeping us posted and dodging questions, but also kinda wounded and eager. He was open about being super depressed when the series was put on pause and now, as he talks about it, he doesn’t act quite like he has everything in control. He sounds like he’s trying. Like he’s working toward something. He knows he’s got several irons in the fire and he’s doing his best to make shit happen. He wants us to just trust him.
Things will work out, is what he’s basically saying. Just let me do my thing, and I’ll take care of you.

Now let’s take a step back to yesterday morning and afternoon, before I met with Rosie.
It was my day off and so, after waking at 7 a.m., I put on some gymwear and walked to Starbucks, did about thirty pages of reading, walked to the gym and listened to a couple podcasts while I worked out, then, walking back home, I stopped at another coffee shop and sat and read maybe fifty more pages. Then I walked to a third coffee shop and did some more reading. Then I walked home and made some lunch and took a shower and recorded a video and watched two movies and had a conference call. Then I drove to the Gables and sat at my favorite bar, John martin’s, and made a post on the website.
Then I started getting messages from Rosie.
I’d been way more productive than usual and, even at 8 p.m. (with two beers in me) felt like I had enough energy to keep going. To write something, record something, go on social media and interact with people and try to build up a following so that I’ll have leverage, at the end of this Thousand Movie Project, to write a book about the whole experience, blow the Project up into something larger (keeping mum on those plans for now), and then, who knows, get a steady writing gig or a teaching gig. Ahdunno. I wanna make a living doing what I love and I wanna engage with people about shit.
I felt like I was burning up with energy at the time Rosie started texting.
And I still felt it a couple hours later, as we were walking hand-in-hand on a breezy quiet street and looking up with so much longing toward those lofty apartments overhead. And I thought, when Is aw them, Just trust me, things are happening.
Didn’t say anything to her but I was so sure, if only for that moment, that things would work out. That I’d turn this blog into something of substance and repute, and that somewhere down the line a living wage would come of all this work. The podcast, the YouTube channel, the essays. That I’m on the right track and everything will be OK if I just stay the course.
And also, weirdly, I was compelled, for the first time in my life, by the thought of living with and caring for somebody. The thought of providing (which sounds ridiculous). Of coming home to somebody with stresses of her own, somebody who’d be happy to see me, a peson with whom I could form a kind of team. Lean on each other.
Real domestic shit, y’know? For which I don’t generally sport such a hard-on but…here I am. Hineni hineni.
And maybe it won’t be with Rosie, who knows. We’re still trying to figure things out. But it was interesting to make note of this feeling, which I’d never really had, that everything I’m working toward, everything I wanna achieve – that I don’t think I just wanna do it for myself. Like maybe this whole big thing is something I’d like to share with someone.

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