It’s the eve of the first day of my new job, a “mid” shift that begins this Tuesday at 5 p.m. and will go, I suspect, until 11 pm, or thereabouts, and since I’ll’ve had the whole day to rest, to review the menu, to get my uniform and thoughts and faculties in order, I’m not feeling at all daunted by the idea that I won’t be prepared for it, or that I’ll be overwhelmed or anything like that. The whole venture feels pretty low-stakes, to be honest. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. No biggie. But I’m here at work in the tutoring center, it’s Monday night, and my colleague is sick so I’ve just been reading, alone, to the sound of a Spotify playlist called Rainy Day Jazz for about two hours now. Everything’s tranquil and cozy and good. I just had a Cuban sandwich. But for some reason, looking forward to the evening’s work, I’ve got this weird feeling of like melancholy. I’m not sure how else to characterize it. Something mournful. And what it brings to mind is the bar, Redbar in particular, where I spend too much time but where, over the next few weeks, I’ll be spending hardly any time at all.
But there’s something heavier to it.
Because it’s not that I’m going to Redbar and getting wasted, it’s just that I’m fleeing my apartment every evening, staying away for two hours, and then kinda grudgingly shuffling back when Happy Hour’s over.
But here’s the basis for the other, heavier part of it (and it’s gonna be laborious but stick with me): Today, Monday, I got up at 7 a.m., cleaned up a bit, showered and walked to the coffee shop and, while there, I wrote ten new pages of blog posts for the week. Then I opened my notebook and typed up, and edited, two essays about movies, and once that was done, both essays ready to be posted, I went to Google and read two long obituaries of Clive James.
“Words, words, MORE WORDS,” to quote Norma Desmond.
You’ve made a rope of words and strangled this business! But there’s a microphone there to catch the last gurgles, and technicolor to photograph the red swollen tongue!Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard
After that I walked back to my apartment, collected my dirty laundry, and carried it, along with my Kindle, to the laundromat a couple blocks down. There at the laundromat, leaning against a dryer, I read (according to my Kindle) the first 13% of a forthcoming memoir about insomnia. It talks–in that opening 13%–about the author’s sleeplessness and its attendant hallucinations, the anxiety and hairloss and panic, the sudden and obsessive fear of death she suffered; there’s a lengthy passage that itemizes what happens to a human body in the hours after death. The first stages of decomposition, step by step.
Then I collected my laundry outta the machine and walked back to my apartment.
I took a shower, got dressed, hopped in my car and, all along the one-hour drive to work, I listened to both halves of the 2015 conversation between Barrack Obama and the novelist Marilynne Robinson (whose novel Gilead is a masterpiece, by the way).
In their conversation, Robinson posits that the bedrock of a democracy is the conviction–sometimes against our better judgments–that people are inherently good and want to help each other. They talk about how they each struggle, internally, with Christianity and the fact that living life as a good Christian isn’t easy. That you’re always coming up short. They explore the idea that America is, to a degree, characterized by two kinds of dissatisfaction: enterprising dissatisfaction (the feeling that things aren’t as good as they could be, which motivates citizens to pool our resources and build something greater), and corrosive dissatisfaction (“things suck and it’s because of Democrats/Republicans/immigrants,” etc, which facilitates hostility and nationalism and so forth).
I end up getting to the office a little late, so I couldn’t stop to grab the colada I usually get when I have a couple minutes to spare. But so I walk into the lab, empty handed, and I start talking to my colleagues the moment I pass through the door—and I’m talking a white streak, telling them,”I feel like an old man to be so bothered by this but it’s my routine now, when I get to work, to stop into the cafeteria and grab a slice of pizza, and then go to a different part of campus for my colada, but for the past three days of work: no pizza. Why is there suddenly no pizza? And now for some reason there’s a sign up saying that the cafeteria will no longer serve any food after 2 p.m….”
On and on, hot and agitated and bubbly, fluent and loud.
One of my colleagues blinks at me and says, “You sure you need coffee? You seem pretty caffeinated already.”
And I wasn’t! Not at all. That was part of why I was so frustrated, is cuz I couldn’t get coffee.
But then I froze and thought, Yeah, what the fuck, why am I talking like such a cokehead?
And it occurred to me: It’s 2 p.m. right now and for basically the past six hours I’ve been saturated in tons of hyperverbal, cerebral, literary shit. Listening to podcasts on the way to and from the coffee shop, then podcasts to and from the laundromat, then podcasts on the way work; I spent three hours of the morning writing more than ten pages in a single sitting, reading two lengthy obituaries along with thirty- or forty-odd pages of some very dark memoir about death and sleeplessness.
And in all of that time, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., while listening to other people discuss a buncha highbrow shit through podcasts, and talking (myself) through my fingertips into a keyboard and reading the words of three or four different writers, I spoke to literally not a single person except the barista at the coffee shop to say “good morning” and “just the coffee today” and “thanks” and “have a good one.”
Maybe that’s why I was so energized and chatty when I got to work—maybe that’s why I’m always so energized and chatty when I show up to work, is because I haven’t interacted with anybody all morning. And maybe the reason I dread going home after work is because I don’t wanna be alone again. I wanna sit at Redbar and talk about movies, about dating, whatever. I wanna be surrounded by activity.
Not because I don’t like the isolation of my mornings. I kinda don’t know how I’d get anything done or even be happy if I didn’t have those few hours of solitude and busyness.
But yeah—I’ll be working nights at this restaurant, as well as the occasional afternoon, and I’ll be surrounded by activity and chatter as I’m doing it but…there’s something melancholy about it, ahdunno what. Maybe it’ll be so exhausting that I’ll pine for the isolation of my apartment. I won’t be spending $8 to $12 every other night at the bar.
The position for which I’ll be training on my first day is called “Runner,” and I think there’s something poignant there.