The Insanity of HopeBy D. R. Haney
November 06, 2012
It was around 9:30 P.M., and I was waiting for the bus in Hollywood after being momentarily paroled from my job as a so-called telefundraiser. When I applied for the job, I didn’t think I stood a chance of being hired at that company or any other, having been out of the mainstream work force for the majority of my adult life, which I’ve spent eking out a living as an actor and screenwriter. The entertainment business used to be said to be recession-proof, but if that was ever true in the past, it’s true no longer; the minute the economy went to hell four years ago, I received fewer and fewer offers of acting and screenwriting jobs, until finally I received none at all. Even production-assistant jobs were, in my case anyway, scarce, though I did manage to PA for a couple of days on a teenage space musical financed by NASA, as well as on a Disney Channel spot in which Miley Cyrus was interviewed alongside her achy-breaky father to mark the end of Hannah Montana.
So telefundraising it was, and for eight hours a day, five days a week, I phoned people all over the U.S.—one person after another after another, dialed by a computer with barely a break between calls—to solicit donations for such disparate organizations as PETA, the Nature Conservancy, B’nai B’rith, Priests of the Sacred Heart, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and, more recently, Obama for America. “Hi,” I said robotically, again and again and again and again, “I’m calling on behalf of—” only to hear a second later: Click. Or: “I already gave!” Or: “We’re on the do-not-call list!”
Of course I couldn’t blame them, and though I sometimes spoke to friendly people eager to donate, I was invariably exhausted at the end of the day. It was all I could do to drag myself to the bus stop—I can’t afford to replace my car, which died three years ago—and, once home, pour myself a glass or five of red wine and veg in front of the computer, meanwhile seething that life had come to this.
My bus, which runs along Sunset Boulevard, is reliably unreliable, and tonight, as usual, it was late, and when it finally arrived, it was, likewise as usual, crowded. I stood for the first few stops, stealing glances—inconspicuously, I was sure—at a nearby couple, the guy standing, the girl sitting. She reminded me of a low-rent version of Debbie Harry once upon a time, but even a low-rent version of Debbie Harry looks good to me, and I moved a little closer, trying to eavesdrop on her conversation with her boyfriend. A seat became available, and after I took it, no one sat next to me—a small mercy, since I’m tall with long legs, so that I have to sit at an angle, otherwise the seat in front of me cuts into my knees. The bus continued, just as I continued to eavesdrop on the couple, who, it turned out, were speaking Russian. Then the bus stopped and a black guy—thirtyish; slightly overweight; shabbily, but not too shabbily, dressed—stepped aboard, and I saw him glance at the empty seat beside me. Don’t, I thought, hoping he could read my mind. Don’t make me rearrange myself. I’ve been on the phone all goddamn day, and I’d like to be able to get home without the goddamn seat doing a number on my knees.
But he took the seat and turned to me and said, “Thank you for letting me sit here,” as if he’d read my mind very well. Fine, I thought, just don’t goddamn talk to me. I’m in no mood to talk to you or anyone else.
“I’m from Pittsburgh,” he said, now incapable of reading my mind. “I just moved here about a year ago.”
“Yeah, I moved here on August twenty-second. I’m getting my own apartment soon.”
“Congratulations,” I said, speaking back only because he seemed, quite possibly, insane, and ignoring him might lead to an altercation. He told me he was a musician, and I said, “Oh? Do you have a band?”
“No. I used to but now it’s just me.”
“So how do you make a living?”
And, suddenly and loudly, he burst into song. He had a good voice, though that he’d burst into sudden, loud song was a confirmation of insanity. Then he broke off and said, “Do you sing?”
In fact, I do sing, a little, but, trying to discourage the exchange, I shook my head and looked away.
“You like her, don’t you?” he said.
“Her,” he motioned with his head toward the Russian girl. “She’s your style. She’s the girl for you.”
“She has a boyfriend,” I said, irked that he’d noticed my notice of her, which might mean that she, too, had noticed.
“But you’ve got personality. You’ve got a real look about you. You look like Bruce Willis. No, you look like Al Capone. Are you Irish?”
Since when is Al Capone Irish? I thought, though I allowed that, yes, I have Irish blood.
“You may find this hard to believe,” he said, “but my great-grandfather was Irish. You know, if I had a baby with that girl, it would come out looking like me. And if you had a baby with a black girl, it would come out looking like her, not you.”
I nodded, despite my uncertainty as to what point he was trying to make. He told me again that I had personality, a personality he liked, which also baffled me, since I was hardly a model of warmth. He asked what I did, and I decided against any mention of acting or writing, which might prolong the discussion. Instead, I said that, at the moment, I was raising money for the election.
“How’s it going?”
“Okay,” I said. “I don’t know. People hang up on me a lot.”
“Yeah, they want to get rid of Obama’s health-care plan, but it’s not going to happen. Obama is a great man. Do you know why?”
“Well, he was able to pass a health-care plan, and even the Clintons couldn’t pull that off.”
“That’s not why. It’s because he loves all the people. He wants us all to have health care, not just rich people. And do you know why they want to get rid of it? Do you know why they hate him?”
“No, they’re demons,” he hissed. “It’s a fight between good and evil. But you—you’ve got God in you. Oh, wait”—and now he stood—“this is my stop.”
The bus was pulling up to a hospital, and I wondered if he lived in the hospital mental ward, which had granted him a kind of day pass. He moved to the back door of the bus and, just before he vanished, he turned to me and said, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” I heard myself say, words I hadn’t spoken in weeks, and before long, I was sleeping in my cell so that I had energy enough to work in another cell, somehow a little more optimistic that, eventually, I would wake to a different day.
nice. loved this.
Praise from the famous xTx! I’m honored. Thanks.
“famous” might be, well, is, stretching it, but thanks! this was a great piece. i wish there was video of it.
Well, I did, maybe, the next-best thing, writing down everything I remembered of the conversation as soon as I got home, though I left a few things out of the piece, thinking the shorter, the better.
I wish I had thought to exchange contact information with the musician. I hope to remember to do that the next time I have another interesting encounter with a stranger, assuming there is a next time. Got to be, right?
Again, I’m honored, and humbled, by what you say.
You should ride that same bus route at the same exact time until you run into him.
Maybe you can employ your acting/screenwriting skills and turn this into a short film. I can play the people who hang up on you.
Or the black guy.
I ride the same bus at the same time constantly, but I’ve never seen him again. I assume he busks, so possibly I’ll run into him again that way.
Oh, and I would love to have you play either the black guy or the people who hang up on me. I have plenty of people who can play the people who don’t call or return calls. In fact, they can play themselves.
I smell Sundance! Though, never having been to Sundance, I have no idea what the hell that might smell like. JT Leroy’s wig, maybe?
Sundance probably smells like dreams and piss.
And, I am fine with playing both. Less $$ out of pocket that way.
I hope you run into him again. He might be your spirit animal.
Yeah, he was definitely perceptive. The exchange was so strange, the way he consistently read my thoughts, even when he ignored them. Meanwhile, I’ve always wanted a spirit animal. I even recently thought about doing that whole Indian thing of camping out alone and fasting for days to induce a hallucination, which was how Indians came to know their spiritual animals. But I’m sure you already know that, just as I know that you’re perfect for this project when you write “less $$ out of pocket.”
BE MY FACEBOOK FRIEND! https://www.facebook.com/extie.ecks
I’m off Facebook for the moment. Should I rejoin?
Okay, just for you, I will. I mean, you are my star, after all.
PLEASE don’t join the time-suck void of facebook on my account! are you on twitter? we can be twitter friends!
Whew! Saved by the bell!
Yeah, I kept Twitter, though I almost never use it: https://twitter.com/subversia.
I would guess, with many writers, that their Twitter accounts are named for their books, but in fact I named a book after my Twitter account. I do a lot of stuff backwards.
You are a ground-breaker.
okay, i ‘followed’ you. now you have a reason to increase your tweets. 😉
Okay, well, then, I’ll tweet something right now.
I enjoyed this. And you do have ‘a look’. That’s a compliment.
Well, Michele, I guess it’s just not the look I want. But, hey, how many of us have the look we want? But thanks, and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I had very meager hopes for it.
Great piece! I felt a connection with it, as a bus-rider and also one who often has the same “leave me be” thoughts after a long day of work. It seems there’s always someone who wants to talk on the bus. Sometimes they have a great message, knowledge or insight to share. Though many of us riders are often too wqorn out to try to see it. Truly loved the writing! Keep up the great work!
You know, Lexi, maybe it’s different in L.A., but strangers here don’t usually want to talk on the bus. Many wear earbuds, which I’ve resisted doing because I feel cut off enough from the world already. But the bus is so full of irritating noise that, increasingly, I’m tempted to go the way of earbuds.
Have you ever seen a movie called “The Whole Wide World”? It’s about the creator of Conan the barbarian, Robert E. Howard, and talk about a resemblance to Al Capone!
Anyway, at the end of the movie, which I didn’t especially like, there’s nevertheless a wonderful scene that takes place on a bus, with a stranger imparting advice to the character played by Renée Zellweger. Honestly, the movie is worth seeing for that scene alone. I looked for the scene on YouTube, but I can’t find it. But here’s the trailer:
Thanks so much for what you say about the piece and, more to the point, for taking the time to say it.
I love this, as I love all of your writing. You are so aware, I wonder if that comes from writing or the other way around? In any case it’s a wonderful story.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from you, Nancey.
I seem to be unaware in all the most important ways, otherwise I would be in a position to devote myself full-time to writing. Oh, for a patron! Are there, these days, patrons, aside from grant commissions and the like? If so, how does one meet them? I think there ought to be a match.com for patrons and creative types, and I further think I should be in charge of it, the better to insure that I ride off into the sunset with a patron. But for my control, I seriously doubt that anyone would pick me.
This is a really weird comment, isn’t it? Sorry about that, and thanks.
Dammit, Duke–I stopped working just to read this piece, and now my heart feels hammered from the gorgeous humanity conveyed not only by the man who sat next to you but also through your ability to share the exchange so openly. My mom would call him your “angel person” for that day. Some divine shit came down on that bus.
For the record (having skimmed the above threads), you probably already know what your spirit animal is–and it might be more than one, depending on the circumstance.
Hugs from this LA.
And I return them from this one.
You know, now that I think of it, this piece has a lot in common with this one by you:
I always loved that piece, so maybe, unconsciously, I was influenced by it. Meanwhile, on the subject of spirit animals, well, I do in fact have this lovely red, with gray spots, cheetah, that was made for me by one Ronlyn Domingue. The only possessions I prize, typically, are books and records — oh, and guitars — but I do prize that cheetah. It’s the only thing I own, I think, that was handmade especially for me.
Oh, and your remark about the “divine” — yeah, it was strange, to me anyway, that the guy saw “God” in me, except that, almost certainly, he has a religious fixation. I mean, I do like to think I have God in me, but as I somewhat said in the piece, I wouldn’t have thought it was in any way apparent on the bus that night.
Now, go work! But I know I don’t need to tell you that; I’m sure you’re working even as I write these words.
That piece was forever ago. Can’t believe you remember it, and thanks for the mention. I was being quite literal about the animals. What one is drawn to, like cheetahs and wolverines for you, praying mantises, spiders, cats, and plenty of birds for me, is often enough of an indicator. (I’m glad your beastie still has a place in your heart and on your shelf.)
I believe some people are able to see the light in others with far more ease than the rest of us. Consider yourself seen.
Actually, I’ve been pacing for a while. Your essay really was that stunning, and I’m avoiding an inevitable moment o’ truth in #3.
Man, I hear you on the avoidance front. But I don’t suppose there’s a writer who wouldn’t, and I know you’ll meet and master that moment o’truth. It’s funny how the answer is always right in front of us but we miss it and miss it until, suddenly, we don’t.
Oh, and you remember about wolverines! I watched a documentary about wolverines recently that kind of blew my mind. There was an animal researcher who lives with a couple of wolverines, who were playing with him like dogs, fake-biting him and so on, with those jaws that can crush bones. Anyway, they’re much more complex and intelligent than I knew.
I’ve been rereading Whitman, and he really makes me think about the connection to nature and how, for me, that connection is missing. While I was working at this fundraising job one day, I looked through the window and saw the sky, and I wanted so badly to walk outside and turn my face to the sun that I actually teared up a little. I’ve always thought of myself as conclusively urban, but lately, I can imagine myself living in the country, or anyway a small town with lots of countryside spread out around it. Living in a city can really deaden the senses, and these days the senses are further deadened by technology, so it’s kind of a one-two punch.
Six years in, and this project still surprises me and pushes my buttons. Anyway, I know WHAT must happen through the rest of the book even if I don’t know HOW it’s going to come out. I didn’t finish the scene today, but I’ll plug back in tomorrow and get it done.
Was that wolverine show on PBS? I almost e-mailed to tell you about it. We didn’t watch it, though, for fear of lots of animal-on-animal violence, which I saw enough of viewing Wild Kingdom as a kid.
Whitman! I read Leaves of Grass about four or five years ago lying belly down in my garden. It’s synchronicity for me that you make the observation about the pull to (and disconnect from) nature. I work in my living room every day five feet from huge plate glass windows that overlook my back yard, but I’m so focused on what I’m doing that I’m missing my favorite season. Really, it’s stupid, as if a few minutes outdoors will really compromise meeting my deadline that much. And THEN, one of the themes in #3 has to do with nature and the effects of dissociating from it. Nature is a teacher, but only if one engages with it directly. I remember the first time I visited NYC and woke up the next morning without the sound of birds. I felt shocked and sad and knew I would always need to live in a place where I was surrounded by trees.
I always think the what and the how are finally the same thing. I mean, I can’t really have one without the other, and if I’m lacking in one area, I’m probably lacking in the other.
This may not amount to the same thing, but, okay, I used to have a problem being heard onstage. It just felt so unnatural for me to “project,” you know, even though I was often told I was loud in real life. (I’m still told that.) I couldn’t even be heard, or at least heard well, in an acting class where everyone sat no further than ten feet from the performing area; and one day I was doing a scene from “Look Back in Anger,” and my teacher, Mira Rostova, explained the play and the character to me, and something clicked, and I started the scene again. Then, in the middle of the scene, I stopped, or maybe Mira stopped me, and she turned to the class and said, “Can you hear him?” And everyone nodded, and she said, “You see? When you understand, there’s no problem being heard.”
Ironically, Mira was notorious in the 1950s for a production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull” — costarring two of her prize students, Monty Clift and Maureen Stapleton — that had people in the audience yelling,”We can’t hear you!” Clift produced that production, or anyway had an uncredited hand in producing it, by way of helping Mira to establish herself as as an actress, but it had the opposite effect. But I digress, as always.
I’m unsurprised at any synchronicity between us, but on the subject of Whitman, I’ll only say that I recently watched a documentary about him in which it was said that he wanted readers of “Leaves of Grass” to carry the book with them and read it outdoors, exactly as you read it; and I’ve been wanting, now that I’m determined to read the book in its entirety, to do exactly that. I resisted Whitman initially, influenced by Hemingway’s dismissal of him, but when I heard “I Sing the Body Electric” read aloud by Susan Sarandon in “Bull Durham,” I thought, “This is like the voice of God as transcribed by a far better writer than the writers, generally speaking, who contributed to the Bible.” Sojourner Truth was apparently of the same, or a similar, opinion.
I’m with you on autumn as a favorite season, and I understand you very well on allowing momentary concerns to come between you and nature. I live not far from Elysian Park, which is huge as city parks go and relatively untamed, and I love to walk the paths of Elysian Park and watch, if I can, the hawks and, at dusk, the owls; yet, sometimes, it’s all I can do to tear myself out of the house, and once I’m out on the paths, I think, “This is great! This is life! Why was it so difficult for me to leave the house? I much prefer this to being indoors.”
The wolverine documentary I cited is entitled “Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom,” and it can be streamed on Netflix. Here’s a clip from it on Youtube, featuring the naturalist I mentioned and his adopted wolverine children:
I don’t remember much carnage in the doc, if any. It’s a very different rendering of the wolverine, so that “user reviews” on Netflix complained that it focuses too much on naturalists, biologists, etc., and not enough on the creature they study. But much of the point of the documentary is how rare and elusive the wolverine is, so that gathering information is, to say the least, difficult.
Oh, and while I’m at it, Ronlyn, I can’t recommend Evan Connnell’s “The White Lantern” enough. It’s a kind of sequel to “A Long Desire.” Really, the two books could be one, separated only because, as one, they might prove too daunting.
Will shoot you an e-mail in the next day or two to follow up. I read THE WHITE LANTERN, too. Loved it. XO
Ah! I knew I had told you about it. In fact, I think I wrote you after my copy arrived.
Looking forward to your email.
I heard a rumor that you had a piece up here today. Always glad to read something new from you. Yay.
I’ve been working with people on the earlier side of recovery from mental illness, as of late.
(That’s the professional to way to say “bat shit crazy”.)
But, when you’re around people that do not turn on their filter before speaking, some beautiful things come out.
And he was right – you do have a look. And he can see a good one when he sees one.
Maybe wasn’t crazy – who knows. I love that he said he loved you.
So outrageous and yet so great.
Lately, I get through things by looking at people and trying to see them as they might have been as babies.
Like they we were all these beautiful babies once – all lovable.
Sending you some unfiltered lub from NP.
Lub to you, too, Steph.
Yeah, I couldn’t believe the “I love you,” and even more so, I couldn’t believe my own. It all happened so fast, and the words just kind flew out of my mouth.
I think the guy was definitely, on some level, disturbed, almost in the way that some war veterans can immediately strike you as disturbed, before you know anything about them. But I don’t know that he was bat-shit crazy — and while it’s true that bat-shit-crazy people can say some beautiful things, they can also of course say unnerving things, partly because we attribute psychic powers to the bat-shit-crazy. And there was something, obviously, a little psychic about the guy on the bus.
I also, by the way,imagine adults as children, just as I imagine children as adults, and children and adults both as old people. It kind of puts everything into perspective.
Nice vignette, Duke. It’s great to see writing by you again, even if it is such a short – and yet, pointed – piece.
Thanks, Matt. Part of the reason I wanted to write a short piece was because my last was over 3000 words, which is practically a novel by internet standards. Even my mom commented on its length! (That was, by the way, the first piece of mine — the Marilyn Monroe piece — that I think she’s ever read; I generally don’t write the kind of stuff that I want to show to my mom, or anyone else in my family for that matter. I mean, you know, the first line of “Banned” is: “It all began with a fuck.”) Also, I wanted to break out of the movie-oriented stuff I’ve been doing at TNB; when I started here, I was always trying to vary the subject and tone of my pieces, and I thought maybe it was time to get back to that.
My comment is longer than the comment it’s addressing. Typical. But it’s nice to see you back here on the boards. I have to admit to a dollop of nostalgia for the old TNB.
Loved this Duke. I love that you said I love you back to him before you even knew you were going to say it. Stuff like that makes me love being alive. Thanks for writing/posting.
Sorry life is so hard. Let’s get lunch or something.
Your story reminded me of the time i was out running and feeling like shit and wondering if there was a God in this world or not and all of a sudden a woman was standing right where I couldn’t help but go right by her. She was holding an umbrella, though it wasn’t raining. Just a sweet elderly black woman who appeared out of nowhere. And as I ran past her she looked me right in the eye and said “God blesses you.” It was so weird because i was wondering about God in that very moment and sort of asking for a sign of his existence. Then i ran on and after a moment i turned back to look for her and she was gone.
Yeah, there was a definite WTF moment after I said, “I love you, too.” I thought, “Did I really say that? Did I really mean it?” And then I realized I did. I think something profound — though not, strictly speaking, mystical — happened, something I can’t really define or describe, and all I can do, in writing about it, is to present the situation and the words that were said and hope that a fraction of that something is communicated.
I would like to think that we can all act as fleeting soul mates — as angels, almost — for others here and there. The weird thing about the fundraising job is that I’ve had astonishing exchanges with donors on the phone, exchanges that never lasted as long as twenty minutes, since there’s a company rule that calls should never take more than twelve minutes tops (I’ve recently come under fire for violating that rule). For instance, I called, a few weeks ago, a woman in Washington State to ask if she would bump up her monthly donation to the Humane Society. Sure, she said. We started talking about dogs — her dog, and my dogs when I was a child, one in particular, who was the same breed as the dog she owned, and she asked, because her dog has health problems, what finally caused my dog to die. “Kidney disease,” I said. “She died in my arms.” I noticed a strange silence after that, and finally, at the end of the conversation, the woman said, “You know, I’m bumping up my donation in honor of my dog. He’s my best friend, and I’m really worried about what’s going to happen to him when I’m gone. I’m in the final stages of renal failure.”
I was floored. Here was this woman who’s about to die, and I knew she must not have a lot of money, since it was a stretch for her to increase her monthly donation by five dollars, but she was still going to do what she could for the Humane Society. It’s very humbling, and inspiring, to meet — however briefly, and over the phone — such people. I only hope they don’t fade from memory. When you speak to hundreds of people on the phone each day — some only for a second, some for twelve or (God forbid!) twenty minutes — the temptation is to let them all go.
I’m so glad you liked the piece, Mary. That makes us even, since I loved the story you posted at TNB a few months ago, as I told you. And lunch? Of course! But I would easily settle for a cup of coffee or some such.
Haney I read every word
& every piece of this,
drank it in
& I might have to say
this is the best I’ve seen you.
I just loved this.
My gosh man,
keep this going
& keep posting it.
I’m flabbergasted, JBM. That’s very high praise, especially for a piece for which my expectations, as I wrote somewhere above, weren’t high at all — that is, just after the encounter, I jotted down everything I could remember about it as soon as I got home, thinking, “Oh, well, it’s so simple, I’m not sure anyone will care if I try to flesh it out.” I was so careless with the document, in fact, that I had to do quite a search to find it when I decided to flesh it out anyway, and if I was ever going to do it, I figured I had to do it, and post it, before the election, otherwise what (little, as I saw it) punch it might have would’ve would be diminished. I only just scraped by, didn’t I?
I would love to keep it up. I have so many ideas for pieces — and books — that I don’t know where to begin. The problem is finding the the time to begin, and I’m still working as a fundraiser, and if I weren’t working as a fundraiser, I’d be writing scripts to survive. Anyway, thanks again. I seriously got a touch of goosebumps when I read your comment.
We got to love
each other, man.
Preach it, brother man.
You know brother
I try but I realize lately
that the best way to preach it
is to live it
to be patient & generous & slow to anger
& to listen & go above and beyond
& most of all to treat others the way I want to be treated.
& past that – to even love those I don’t really like
the people I don’t understand, the people who
aren’t my kind of people.
That’s hard. I fail a lot. But I try.
Thank you for making me think about
those things today.
I likewise try and fail, and there’s a situation that’s been going on in my life that’s led me to fail dramatically. I had to really sit myself down and try to get a grip on it. My anger was way over the top, and I’m still angry, though I’m hopefully having fewer outbursts directed at a person who’s thankfully not in the room to hear it, though I believe that person has overheard at least one of the outbursts, judging by certain behavior afterward. But for what it’s worth, I’ve always seen myself as a kind person, following as best as possible the example of my sweet-to-the-point-of-saintly grandmother, and an almost savagely angry person, following and absorbing other examples from my childhood. That split has been quite a cross to bear, and while it isn’t nearly as polarized and taxing as it used to be, it’s undeniably still there.
Also, the funny thing about your first comment is that it caused me to think about things, about the piece itself and meanings in it that may have escaped my notice, though I wrote the bloody thing. So, you know, I really want to thank you.
We are all filled with
so much of the best
& so much of the worst,
all of us.
So we help each other here,
small steps, each day
& Mercy & Love
& Laughing, a little,
Yes, well. I’ve never mastered the art, if it can be called an art, of laughing at myself. “A little,” you wrote; I think that’s the sum of my capacity. Also, I could definitely use more grace in my life, but I suppose you have to be worthy of it.
Then again, in the stories of Flannery O’Connor, the worst characters are presented with (arguably) undeserved moments of grace. And they always blow it.
That’s what makes it Grace.
We can’t earn it.
We can only receive it.
it takes Grace to write something
with the kind of weight
your story carries.
So maybe it’s there
more than you know.
Man, I miss talking
like this on TNB.
We help each other.
I miss it, too, JMB.
What happened? Where did it go, and why? Do you know?
Anyway, we’re enjoying it, briefly, now.
Also, even as I wrote what I did about grace, I knew I had it wrong.
It’s great to see you back, Duke. There are fewer and fewer familiar faces around here these days and you’ve been sorely missed by this guy at least. It’s interesting to see that you’ve been fundraising for Obama. Can’t be an easy job. I’d be surprised if the worst you got was the phone slamming or, “I’m on the no call list!”
Sorry to hear that you’ve not been able to get work in the entertainment business… You ever thought of Asia? I get offered TV jobs all the time, but I turn them down because I hate being on camera. It makes me shake with fear.
In fact, David, I only just mentioned above, to Matt, as to my nostalgia for the old TNB. But, occasionally, the faces, or gravatars, of old appear, as now with you. You were always one of my favorites, as I’m sure you must know. I even remember telling a friend, who had nothing to do with TNB, that I looked forward to anything posted by David Wills, describing your posts to him.
I can assure you that I heard much worse, as well as much better, than phones being slammed or: “I’m on the Do Not Call List!” I’ve had wonderful conversations, especially in the last few days of the election, with people who picked up their phones to tell me that NO WAY were they going to give ONE MORE DIME, only to offer their credit-card info after we’d spoken for a few minutes and I told them how the last-minute money we were trying to raise was going to be spent in the swing states.
I have in fact thought of relocating to Asia. I’ve thought of relocating Down Under. I’ve thought of relocating — again — to Eastern Europe. You name the country or continent, and, with the exception of Antarctica, I’ve thought of relocating there. But I’ve always lacked the funds to make the move, and I’ve also, of course, wondered as to how I would earn my keep once I’d made the move. I’m self-taught, so don’t have the university degree that would make it possible for me to, for instance, teach English.
I know just what you mean about hating and/or fearing the camera. That’s why I’ve given up on acting, pretty much. It was always hard for me to expose my physical inadequacies to the world, or that minuscule part of the world that might have seen images of me. But as my physical inadequacies have become more pronounced, it’s become that much harder to share them. Bloody hell, I can barely face myself in the mirror!
Still, on some level, I’m always going to miss acting — or, rather, I’m going to miss my idealized notion of acting and a world in which I’m working with talented, capable, sensitive people who want only the best. In truth, actors are, in the movie business anyway, per Hitchcock, cattle.
But I did like making movies an awful lot. I liked the social aspect of it, which is of course absent in writing, and I liked the real-world industrial feel of it, cords and wires and bulbs and so on. It seemed to me the perfect blend of the pragmatic and the artistic, though the former usually took precedence over the latter.
Thanks a lot, Duke. I do appreciate the flattery. I yearn for the days of old, too, but my own life has become a little less… well… adventurous might be the term. No more crazy stories for me, and so my own TNB posts have gotten a little thin and far between.
Emigrating is certainly a way of keeping life fresh and interesting. There’s nothing like spending your days trying to figure out what’s in the packages at the supermarket to keep you from getting bored. It’s also wonderful not being able to understand what people are saying.
I used to be incredibly shy, but five years of being stared at intently – I mean, like, scrutinized as I were a zoo exhibit – has sort of desensitized me. Next month I have to give a long presentation on “innovative management technique” to a bunch of management experts from Australia. I have never studied management in my life, nor am I convinced the guys who’ve told me to do this understand the meaning of the word “innovation”, although they do use it a lot. But I’m not nervous like I once would’ve been. You just sort of get up there and think, “More eyes on my inadequacies,” to borrow your phrasing.
I guess part of the appeal of China is that, unlike Korea or Japan or Taiwan, there’s all sorts of crazy jobs over here. You need a degree for a lot of the boring stuff like teaching, but the harder-to-find things usually don’t require any qualifications. They just require a tolerance for weirdness and unpredictability.
Anyway, I’ll be living Stateside next summer. My wife is fed up with Asia. It’s not so fun when you’re not white, sadly. I’ve been working my ass off this past year to make writing and editing pay enough that I can employ myself, but we’ll see. The election made me a little more enthusiastic.
Well, hell, David, how adventurous is a job as a telefundraiser? Not very, I can promise you. But when the world gives you lemons, etc., etc.
I think, like you, I’m temperamentally inclined toward the expat life. You say it’s wonderful not being able to understand what people are saying around you, and I think it’s part of it. There’s that thing of participating but not participating, of being present but not present, which is how it is for writers anyway. People used to worry endlessly, and still do, about feeling “inauthentic” because they couldn’t, and can’t, “experience” life without some part of them observing from “afar” — the plays of Peter Shaffer are instructive examples of the sort of bellyaching I mean — but I think that’s an ideal that’s never perfectly realized by anyone. We do, and we watch ourselves doing it, whatever the “it” may be, and we can only “lose” ourselves for a minute, or a second, or two. It’s madness to expect more, but writers may be less inclined to expect more than many or most. Hence the number of expat writers.
Am I making sense? I haven’t slept much. Anyway, as I said, in my case it’s been a matter of lacking the initial funds to make the move and take the plunge. I had the funds when I moved to Serbia, and I moved back to the States, which I had to do, at the moment when I was only beginning to consider ways and means to remain.
It was a wonderful time. But I had a wonderful time in L.A., too, after I returned. I never had a better time in L.A., in fact, than I did from, roughly, 2003-2008. The last four years have been, for the most part, shit.
I’m glad that you’ll be living Stateside soon, if only so that we can finally, really, meet. And anything complimentary I’ve had to say about you wasn’t “flattery,” which implies mendacity. Nope, none of that. Apart from your “crazy” TNB posts of yore, we always had in common our interest in the Beats, which is another reason I hope to meet you and say in person what can take far too long to tap out on a keyboard, as per this goddamned comment.
Absolutely, I get what you mean. I do sometimes wander around feeling a bit detached, but much less so. When you’re out of your element, you’re forced to participate. I can’t wander down the street without now trying to figure out what the signs say, or people are yelling, or what’s going on. Two years here and it’s completely foreign. But when you grow up somewhere it becomes something you just passively, accidentally, accept. You’re constantly looking at life in a new light, I suppose.
Anyway, for me America is pretty foreign so I guess I have that to look forward to next year.
Yes, it will be great to finally meet. I’m not 100% sure where I’ll end up. As my work is basically editing and writing, I can pick it up and move it with me. It’ll all depend on where Amy finds a job. Having said that, despite her Michigan roots and my Scottish roots, we’re both absolutely incapable of dealing with the cold. So maybe we’ll end up in your part of the country.
Yeah, I never did pick up much Serbian, so, when I was living in Serbia, I didn’t know what what almost any of the street signs, etc., said. But I like that. It makes the familiar — and what could be more more familiar than a street sign? — unfamiliar, so that can be seen in fresh way. You know, you’re not blindsided by the text, by the content, so that you’re, potentially anyway, better able to appreciate the form, like watching a movie with the sound turned off.
After living in California for so long, I’m the opposite of you and Mrs. Wills. I miss winter — real winter. People used to say, “Oh, well, if you were living on the east coast again, you’d get over that in a second.” But that was before I lived in Serbia, and I went through a winter there and, despite slipping and sliding and even falling on ice (the Serbs didn’t have money enough for rock salt to melt the ice on sidewalks, etc.), I loved it. Also, there was a big payoff when spring arrived: I was thrilled to see green grass and leafy trees and flowers and bees. I thought, “Wow, this is weird. I haven’t felt this way in years. I wonder why.” And then I thought, “Duh! Because in L.A. it’s always spring, even when it isn’t.”
See, my wife hates the summer, too. She prefers a sort of 60-75 steady temperature, no surprises. Me, I like it sweltering. I’d be happiest on a tropical island with a glass of rum for however many years I live. That’d be sweet. I can’t handle the cold. When people say they prefer it, I explain it like this: Imagine you’re outside and the pavements are almost melting. You’re soaked in sweat. It’s unbearable. But then you come inside, sit in front of the air con for 2 mins and open a cold beer. Then you’re fine. However, imagine it’s cold as fuck. You’ve got icicles on your balls. Come inside and sit in front of a heater, with a cup of coffee, and you’ll still be cold for an hour or two.
That’s funny. I always say, when defending winter, “Cold? Just turn on the stove and sit by it. Sit by the fireplace; you’ll be warm soon enough. But it’s not so so easy, when the weather is hot, to cool off.”
Jesus, it was so hot in Belgrade one night that I pulled the mattress off the bed in the hotel where I was staying and put it on the floor, next to the minibar fridge, and took all the cold bottles of beer out of the fridge and put them next to me on the mattress, and left the door to the fridge open and tried to sleep as close to it as possible. But of course the cold bottles of beer soon warmed, just as the fridge soon stopped emitting cold air.
By comparison, I once played football in Central Park with friends in the snow, and afterward we went to a neighborhood bar, where there was a fireplace, and soon I was so hot that I was drenched in sweat, already sweaty from the game.
I feel paralyzed by hot weather. Not that I love freezing weather. Autumn is my favorite season. That’s just cold enough — unless it’s the kind of autumn we’ve had in L.A. so far this year.
I love talking about the weather. After all, i AM a human barometre.
Lovely piece, D.
Always a treat….
On an unrelated note… Did you ever see this? http://www.librarything.com/profile/marilynmonroelibrary Figured you probably had.
Zara: Yes, you are a human barometer. I hope you won’t mind that I’ve corrected your bizarre spelling, which is perhaps a result of extreme cold or extreme heat.
David: Thanks for the addition of Marilyn Monroe to the conversation. You know, after I spent three weeks researching her for my piece about her, I wrote to Greg Olear that I didn’t think I could ever look at another photo of her. Instead, in the months since, I’ve found myself more interested in the subject, though not so interested that I would I read another book pertaining to it. But I do find myself looking at YouTube clips and reading short things on the Internet about MM. I even had, for the first time that I can remember, an erotic dream about her. I have a crush on a fucking skeleton!
Anyway, no, I never, until now, clicked on that link, though I was aware of it; a friend, whose father was a (little-known) writer in the 1950s and 60s, posted the link on FB after discovering that one of his father’s books was in MM’s library.
Meanwhile, here are a few telling titles from her library:
“The Cat with Two Faces”
“How to Travel Incognito”
“The Little Engine That Could”
“The Failure of Success”
“Man Against Himself”
“Something to Live by”
“Add a Dash of Pity”
“Prayer Changes Things”
“The Art of Loving”
“Sexual Impotence in the Male” (!!!)
Bravo, Duke. I love your bus stories, and this one was particularly moving. And, needless to say, it’s nice to see hope radiating from your little corner of Echo Park.
What do you mean, “little”? Like a little clown? Like a little clown and/or bus that amuses you?
But, seriously, thanks, Greg; and speaking of hope, here’s hoping that I’m soon on another bus headed to your neck of the woods. I crave a visit to the east coast like you can’t believe.
Sorry for delayed reply…the thingie that’s supposed to tell me a reply happened hasn’t worked for quite some time.
Come East, young man! Would love to have you back out.
Well, it will be a while yet. But nice to know I’m still welcome. I think I’ll try a different setting on the white-noise next time, and I’m already open to suggestions.
I recommend the tried and true railroad sound. I think you chose some kind of ocean setting.
And yes, you are always welcome – anytime, Haney!!
The kids are bigger with less teeth. And they’re reading and writing and doing all sorts of arithmetic.
So, yes, come visit before they become teenagers and want nothing to do with hanging
out and playing Sorry!.
Yeah, my guess is that if I went with something else — wave, rain, city traffic — I would probably wake and switch it back to the train yard.
Is that waitress still working at the German place? I’m still annoyed that I left my doggy bag in your fridge. Also, I’m not too sure about Sorry! after making Dom cry last time.
Oh, and I’ve been meaning to ask: how did you guys fare with Sandy? Any felled trees or the like?
Went to the German place recently (Mountain Brauhaus) – so so good.
Possibly she’s there – or another just as lovely lady in leiderhosen.
Either way, we should definitely go back there. So so good!
Sorry about your leftovers. I should have put them in the freezer. Damnitt!!
Yeah, maybe not Sorry!. It does evoke raw emotions for the loser.
And the winner – at least with our kids. They haven’t learned the graceful winner yet either.
Maybe we could just sit around the fire and roast marshmallows.
We did miraculously ok on the Sandy front. All day and night the lights flickered and I thought
for sure we would lose power. A transformer blew and our neighbors a block away did for a week.
Plenty of people in our town lost trees. But we didn’t. In general, our area lucked out
compared to our tri-state nabes.
You know, my friend (and your neighbor) Rit lives by the river, and I never even wrote to him to ask how the hurricane had treated him, he admitted guiltily. Meanwhile, my friend (and Rit’s acquaintance) Paul, who lives in New Jersey, lost his house. His brother Brian (who knows your friend Kim from her catering days) posted before-and-after photos of Paul’s area on FB: shocking.
Have you ever popped popcorn on a fire? I never have. So maybe that’s a possibility. But this is all very premature. Much depends on certain developments in the next couple of months.
I wonder how many kids are graceful winners. That’s kind of an acquired trait, yes? Oh, and no problem about the leftovers; I wrote that mainly because of my fondness for the dated term “doggy bag.” When I was a kid, people on TV shows would ask the waiter for a doggy bag, and I thought it sounded really grownup, not to mention urbane.
That’s like DIY Jiffy Pop for cavemen. But even cavemen wouldn’t require someone to tell them to add salt and butter when the corn is done popping, yes?
Here’s my own contribute to the popcorn clip fest. It, quite possibly, will make for seconds thoughts about eating popcorn ever again, or anyway eating “butter,” as it’s identified by the narrator:
Duke, this is really lovely, and what an ending. You transcended the political bullshit and made your story something even a tea partier would–for a split second–get.
Hey, that’s just what Obama tries to do! Maybe you should run for office.
Hopefully this won’t read as pretentious, Art, but your comment touches on part of what I was aiming for: a kind of snapshot of the American experience, using only my experience, at this particular moment in time, evoking politics without being overtly “political.” I’m uncomfortable about writing directly about politics anyway. I don’t have any knack for it. My political opinions are admittedly half baked, but then I think the political (as well as cultural, aesthetic, etc.) opinions of many are half (at best) baked, to say nothing of opinions that aren’t half baked but are nonetheless wrong. But how to prove they’re wrong? There’s historical precedent, but no two historical moments are precisely the same, so only hindsight, finally, can offer any proof, and even then there’s, inevitably, disagreement as to what, if anything, hindsight has proved.
To take you literally on your joke about running for office: it was said, after Watergate, that Nixon couldn’t be elected dogcatcher. I don’t think I could even be elected assistant dogcatcher. I might, however, with a few well-placed connections, be able to land a job as graveyard-shift janitor at a small-town city hall.
I see a collection of pieces called Haney & the 33 Downtown. I had occasion to stand on the sidewalk and talk for a few minutes with a very angry transvestite a few weeks ago, and after she told me she loved me. Your piece reminded me of that. Especially how small it was of me not to tell her I loved her back. Even though I did.
Another book idea! Thanks, Sean! That’ll fill the #897 slot wonderfully! And if I pursue it, maybe I can be Wesley Wills of letters. I’m sure you know that WW is said to have written his songs on Chicago buses, including this one, inspired by a McDonald’s ad WW saw on, yes, a bus: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLtb74G7T1A
Now, what did you to do to piss off that transvestite?
Oh, and I’ve been meaning to tell you that you resemble Neil Armstrong, I’ve lately decided.
Really cool, Duke. I love when things like this happen — meaningful encounters with people you wouldn’t normally cross paths or engage with. I could picture and feel the weariness and tears in the pleather of the bus seats, and loved him as a character/actual person. Lovely moment in time captured. Glad you did.
I love it when you weigh in, Rachel. Thanks. And I’m glad you were able to picture and feel the textures, etc. I always wonder at how much description to include. Especially with a piece like this one, I want the reading to go as fast — that is, as painlessly — as possible, so I try to supply the minimum, hoping the reader will supply the rest. Also, with the guy on the bus, there was really nothing about his appearance, that I could see anyway, that hinted at his state of mind. It would have been nice if I had taken a moment to mention his eyes, however. He had light brown eyes, almost hazel, which was one reason that I had no trouble believing that his great-grandfather had been Irish. Also, I assume that almost everyone in America is, to one degree or another, a mongrel.
Weighing in too – just in case you missed me above.
Lovely piece – So extraordinarily human. All your pieces shine with humanity and are touched with some bright light. Even the dark ones.
You make me want to pick up a pen again (so to speak)..
Well, you know, I always say that no party is complete at TNB without you, Z. Or maybe I should make that “Missus Z.” Congrats to you and John! I only wish I could have afforded to attend the wedding.
Do you see this as a dark piece? I guess it is, sort of. Someone told me once that “Banned for Life” had a certain “noir” quality, which I very much appreciated, though, if it had that quality, it wasn’t put there consciously.
I wish you would pick up the pen again. Surely recent events in your life demand to be told in writing and posted here.
Oh no – I didn’t mean that this piece was dark – although as you say it does have a noir element.
But that’s the lovely thing about your writing, it contains measures of light and shade in all its sentences. Like afternoon sun in a tree lined street – long, rich shadows. Verrry nice.
I wish you’d been able to come to the wedding too – it was, by all accounts, a lovely day. I am trying to write, unfortunately all I seem able to do these past months is scribble an opening line or two and then look dumbfounded at the blank page that stares back at me.
Well, writing, some believe, requires a degree of dissatisfaction. It’s a kind of consolation, according to that school, for what you don’t have in daily life, and right now — and, I trust, always — you may be too happy to care about seeing something through in writing. But there are numerous examples to the contrary. For instance, James Joyce, from all accounts, was very happy in his marriage to Nora, and it produced, arguably, his best writing: the closing chapter of “Ulysses.” Anyway, you’ve certainly been busy. With time, I’m sure, you’ll be writing away, and maybe even wondering why you bother to invest any time at all in writing.
Oh, and I was pleased that you might might have considered this piece “dark,” though I’m even more pleased, as well as humbled, by your elaboration. Yeah, I’ll take that — and more of the same, thanks in advance.
PS: The day certainly does look lovely in all the photos I’ve seen — and you’re the loveliest element.
Well, Duke, the photo alone in this one is enough to have me voting this best TNB post of the year. As long as I can vote absentee. No matter where I am, I’ll never get enough of L.A. streets at dusk, in words or in color.
Which is also to say this whole thing is a little jewel. I always respond to this kind of watchful sympathy of yours. Not really sure why, but this piece reminds me of you standing next to Elliot Smith at Ralph’s, though where that essay ended down, this ends up.
It’s also maybe the fact that you have a funny knack for being in an interesting place in an interesting time. I expect one of these days, I’ll hear that David Axelrod tapped you as a spiritual advisor. In any case, that’s the kind of hopeful expectation I have for Obama’s second term.
Thanks for keeping the genuine human connection alive, on the campaign phones and here on this very site (which your pieces always manage to take a defibrillator to…whoops did I just write that, maybe no one will notice…). Still I won’t make the mistake of betting against optimism.
The photo! Thanks for citing it, Nat. It was taken, literally, just outside the entrance to the place where I’ve been working: the first photo ever snapped on my so-called smartphone, which must account for the blurriness. But for the blurriness, it probably wouldn’t work even remotely, being such a stock shot: sunset in L.A., etc. But the colors of that particular sunset were particularly lurid, which the photo doesn’t capture, and I had in mind that a certain essay in “Subversia” when I reached for my phone, and I only added it to the post at the last second, thinking, among other things, the dusk could be construed as the dawn of “a different day,” per the end of this piece.
I would like to believe it’s true that I have a knack for being in an interesting place at an interesting time, but, really, L.A. is always interesting, despite my love-hate relationship with it — which is, of course, the relationship that many have with it. In terms of keeping the human connection alive on the campaign phones — well, I can only say that’s what I tried to do. But I’ve tried to keep the human connection alive when phoning on behalf of any nonprofit. I once phoned T-Mobile, irate, and the service rep was so very human in a rare and, clearly, sincere way that I overcame my anger within seconds, and I regretted that I didn’t sufficiently thank him before ending the call. Anyway, I’ve always kept that call in mind while working this job — which I’m still working. In fact, I only just returned home from it.
I once had an exchange with someone who had worked, briefly, at a nursing home. It was life-changing, he said — for a minute. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was with that exchange on the bus. I would like to say that it helped me to permanently turn a corner, but moments like that are easily misplaced. Almost every experience is easily misplaced, really. But note that I say “almost.” Some remain, and that’s kind of optimistic, yes? If the experience was a hopeful one, that is.
As for being tapped for a cabinet position, I believe I might opt for the official American writer-in-residence, were there such a position, and if I so, I’m afraid I would have to take out a list of thousands of writers before my name could be added to it, beginning with Jonathan Franzen.
Oops! I meant Jodi Picoult! Maybe no one will notice.
Meanwhile, I just wrote a moment ago that no party is complete without Zara, and that goes for you, too, Nat, and with your arrival, I count myself relieved and content.
that was a beautiful and heartbreaking piece. Thank you very much.
I’m just preparing an email for you which I’ll post sometimes in the next days.
Hope you find time for your novel between those long phoning shifts. Your prose is at its height.
It’s always a pleasure to hear from you — and especially when you offer praise. Being European, you’ll of course recognize that I’m joking about the praise; I can never be sure about Americans. The well-known director Nicholas Ray, who lived in Europe for a long stretch, used to say that “the problem with Americans is that they’re so literal about everything” — and certainly, at that times, that applies to me.
Right now I am trying to find a few moments to begin the new novel. Beginning is, I swear, a good part of the battle with a novel, or at least it is with me; and the new one is an especially tough novel to begin, being such an odd mix of things. But that’s true for a lot of my writing. I’ve always been one for combining, or trying to combine, elements that are, apparently to everyone but me, disparate; hence the many excursions, as you may remember, in my conversation.
Meanwhile, it’s taken me a long time to learn how to write prose that doesn’t embarrass me — even “Banned for Life” was a little rough in ways I didn’t fully intend — and, now that I would like to think I have learned, I have almost no time in which to write. In fact, I only just returned home from the salt mines, and tomorrow I’m off to Vegas for the weekend — for business, not pleasure. I’ll explain privately when I answer your email.
I’m wondering how many times over the past 5 or 6 months when “California” was calling me and I didn’t answer, I missed a chance to chat with Duke.
Wonderful piece, gent. Also, I love you.
Well, it couldn’t have been me ’cause I don’t have your number. Although, if I did, you know I’d call. Ask anybody. Which is why nobody gives me their number anymore. The talking thing is so last century.
Love you, too, Dana. I’ve missed you ’round this ghost town, where a tumbleweed just hit me and attached to my face like that embryo thing in “Alien.”