Just Break Up With Her, Already!

One of the apartments in this complex is occupied by students. They are louder than most of the other residents, but most nights it’s no big deal – especially now that school is in session. I was occasionally on the loud side back in the day as well. One of the kids has a girlfriend, however, that is gradually driving me insane. It’s just that, well, she’s bitchy.

The guy’s parking place is right below the window I’m sitting next to right now. Every time she comes or goes there is conversation. Almost always she’s in a bad mood and she’s taking it out on the guy. Or whoever’s on the other end of her mobile phone. Or the other voices in her head. Good lord that woman has a lot of complaining to do, and directly below this window seems to be her favorite place to do it. The hour of the day or night makes no difference; in fact, the later it is at night, the more she’s accumulated to bitch about. 3 a.m.? A fine time to rail on and on with her unseen friends.

Why, oh, why can’t the guy just give her the heave-ho? Is her company at other times so charming that he can ignore the constant stream of complaints I get to hear? Is there some field around this window that puts her in a bad mood? I just want to put my hand on the guy’s shoulder and say, “Dude, if you can put up with that shit, you’re going to make some other girl a fine boyfriend.”

Some quiet, polite girl.

Quite a night at the Little Café

Start with the beginning, people say, but tonight’s story starts with the end.

“You are a workaholic,” she says, stumbling on the word in a heartbreakingly beautiful way.

“I am,” I admit. “But I’m happy.” With those words I formally removed myself from the list of potential replacements for the boyfriend she thinks is about to dump her. I had just explained to her that I would be a terrible boyfriend, and she believed me. I was convincing.

I was talking to Martin when she came in. She is striking, and where in the US tall girls often feel awkward, she was a tall woman wearing tall shoes. Tall is not a sin here. (I think I’ll move to Japan.) I’ve seen her several times before, but tonight she struck me harder than usual. Enough that I made a comment to Martin.

Ah, Martin. It warms my cold, desolate heart to see him with Leigh. Things have been pissy between them for the last few days; there’s a lot going on for them all at once, including a career-making (or busting) panel appearance for Leigh. Then there’s the part where they’re buying their first place together. They showed up tonight and I happily put down my book. They told me in a good-natured way about the squabbles they’d been having, and as I wondered why it was me that heard this, I also felt that these guys had what it takes to last. They’re in love, and it’s possible to be in love and be angry at the same time. At some level they know that.

Anyway, Leigh decided to take off before she had even ordered. She wasn’t feeling well, and just wanted to be home. I can understand that. Martin said he would be home at 11:05 — five minutes after the bar closed, less than an hour hence. He promised. She left.

We chatted, Martin and I, about this and that, all fascinating topics I’m sure, only one of which I remember. “I would stay away from one so young,” Martin said, in reference to the girl who had just walked in. “But that’s just me…” She never struck me as that young, myself.

The big hand was moving uphill, the little hand inching toward eleven, when I ordered my last beer for the night. I chatted with Martin some more. No beer arrived, and closing time was fast approaching. “Technical difficulties,” I was told. No fear, I would be served my beer. That snafu looked to push my night past 11:05, and Martin decided I should not drink my last beer alone. He called the Missus.

While it might seem quite reasonable to you and me to delay ones return home because ones buddy’s beer was slow in coming, I was nonetheless grateful for Leigh’s perspective and her extension of Martin’s curfew. He made another promise: 11:23. My beer finally arrived, he had another, and we talked some more. Time passed.

The universe would be a lot cooler if time would just chill out once in a while.

The time: 11:15. Martin still has most of a beer in front of him. In eight minutes he must be home. “You’re running out of time, dude,” I said (or something like that). “You better start drinking.” He looked at the clock on the wall, then in shock turned to his watch for confirmation. He was out of time. He reached for… his phone.

“No!” said I. “Better to leave half a beer on the table than to make that call! Just go home!”

He made the call. I only heard one side of the phone conversation, but the best part for me was when he said, “Yeah, Jerry said you would kill me…” We had a laugh about that before Martin left at 11:20. He’s three minutes from home if he walks quickly.

He was barely out the door, I had picked up my book but had yet to scan the point I left off, when the astonishingly beautiful woman slid next to me. “What are you reading?” she asked.

“Philosophy, but it’s pissing me off again.”

We talked for quite a while. Out of some chivalrous impulse I defended her boyfriend until I had to admit that he was a spoiled little baby who wanted to go out and play but always wanted someone to come home to. We both agreed she’d be better off without him. That’s when I explained what a horrible boyfriend I would be.

“You are a workaholic”, she said, stumbling on the word in a heartbreakingly beautiful way.

It’s an episode… about nothing.

Sorry for the lack of episodes lately. It’s just that life has carried on in its terribly ordinary way, the wheels of time and space turning on well-oiled axes with nary a squeak.

Of note, perhaps, is that my pants are falling down. Either they have stretched or I have shrunk. While I don’t feel any healthier, and can see no diffference in the mirror, is seems unlikely that all my pants got larger at the same time.

One reason I’ve not had much to say is that I spent more time than I should have in the last week playing a computer game. This is the sort of brain-eating activity that leaves one without an original thought to call one’s own. I finished the game today, and I have no plan to order any of the sequels. Not because it wasn’t fun, mind you, quite the opposite.

Now I am in the Little Cafe, and there is a birthday party goinf on. Birthday girl is very pretty, adn is dancing on the bar as I type this.(pardon the typos, but for authenticity, i will leave this as I firty tuyped iu while watching her dance.) She is particularly happy because her ex-boyfriend showed up for the party, and they are not ex anymore. I am happy because she is very, very, good at shaking her moneymaker. Perhaps they were reconciled before tonight, but I don’t think so. The breathlessly hopeful look on her face when he arrived, the careful way they acted until they fell into their old familiar habits, the disappointment of the other males present, all spoke of this being a birthday she will long remember. For me, in my corner, part of the universe has gone back to being the way it belongs.

And so the world moves on, quietly, calmly (with the exception of the dancing on the bar), and there is little for this correspondent to report.

Love Pentagram

All these names are made up, but the people are painfully real, and make me glad I’m a crusty old codger.

Veronika is nutty crazy for Vaclav. Sadly, Vaclav is completely blind to any woman other than Martina, who is committed to Tomas. Finally there is Miki, who seems to alternate between pining for Veronika and Martina. Happy Tomas and Martina! They actually like each other, mutually, and they are one of those ‘cute couples’. This just adds to the anguish of the other three points of the pentagram; the joy of the loving couple is what we all seek. When that lightning smile flashes between the two everyone in the room wants to catch the electricity; I know how good it would feel to be bathed in the warmth of her bright-eyed smile. Anyone would want to feel that.

The other points live in a balance of hope and despair, mistaking the person for the emotion. And I? I watch, quietly, not courting hope, not risking despair.

An interesting crossing

I sit now in a large plaza in the town of Maó, the largest town on the island of Menorca. Pigeons strut about in idle hunger or relax on the warm ground; they take no notice of the older one in their midst. The elder bird scruffy and worn, but the others do not see their own futures in the other bird; they are not reminded of their own mortality. They are just pigeons, after all.

I am partially in the shade, with my legs protected but my black sweatshirt soaking up the sun. I sit, uncommonly comfortable, and I ask myself, “what happened last night?” I’m not sure, really, but something happened on the boat between there and here (whoever here is). Alcohol happened, that I know. A pretty girl cried on my shoulder. I stood in the wind watching the sea slide past. All those things happened without a doubt, but I think maybe something else as well. I just can’t put my finger on it.

Alcohol happened, and plenty of it. Alcohol on a boat, on a moonless night. On deck, near the bow, I the professor (“Is that Mars?” “Actually, that’s Antares, who’s name means ‘Not-Ares’, the greek name for Mars.”), enjoying the night with Cassius and Brutus, and of course dear sweet Emily. (Some characters in this little drama may have appeared previously in this blog under different names, but that’s not important.) We gathered, a tight little bunch. Emily is a proper and well-spoken English girl, and the rest of us, well, we are who we are, only last night all the more so.

We met Emily as we marched out to board the bus that would take us to the boat. Brutus was immediately very solicitous and helpful (as the married member of our little trio he obviously knew more about how to treat women than Cassius or I), and we learned that she was coming to Menorca to be with her family, and that she had just broken up with her boyfriend two days prior. As Professor, I prescribed her medication: alcohol. She was already ahead of me, and specified gin and tonics.

Alcohol happened. We sat in the bar for a while, then adjourned to the walkway outside, standing in the warm Mediterranean breeze and mist, chatting and laughing. The bar closed, we covered our rather astonishing tab, and still we stayed out there. After a while Cassius disappeared and returned a short time later with more beer. I received this bounty with joy, and didn’t ask too many questions. Cassius, crafty and fearless, had found a way to overcome the classic “Closed Bar” problem, a conundrum which no member of Star Fleet had ever managed to win before. And so, alcohol continued to happen.

As did Emily. Emily happened; dark-haired, blue-eyed, witty and intelligent, she happened. Brutus connected with her easily, attentive and helpful, friendly without being forward. Cassius, well, there’s a price to be paid for being crafty and daring — it leaves one cynical and acerbic as well. Not the way to win over the ladies, which just feeds the cycle. Finally there was Professor, me, exercising my limited knowledge of astronomy and other subjects, a roller coaster of lugubrious prattle and long silences. In the course of things, while alcohol continued to happen, Cassius left to liberate more of the beer unfairly trapped behind the closed bar’s bars, and Brutus went to bid farewell to some of the beer that had already served its purpose. I was alone with Emily. I asked a question — I don’t remember what — and she began to cry, happening in great sobs. She missed her ex. She was not happy about the breakup, not at all, and had been soldiering on with strength and courage before my question broke through her crumbling defenses.

Awkward, uncertain, I stood close but very far away, wanting to offer comfort, baffled, afraid. This is where you make a gesture, this is where you give someone what they need without thought of yourself. But, but… She’s a stranger, she’s a pretty girl, she’s a wounded bird, vulnerable, and anything I do is open to misinterpretation. (And, come on, let’s be honest here, it’s not like the thought of sharing a bonding moment with her didn’t spin enticing possibilities deep in my head. I’m not dead.)

I did what any silver-tongued smooth operator would do. I asked her permission to give her a hug. Holy crap, of all the things I could have done, short of pitching her over the side of the boat, that had to be about the lamest thing possible. Pathetic.

She didn’t answer, so I bit the bullet, swallowed hard, and hugged her. She really let loose then, and there’s nothing to say but she loves him and they’re broken up and she feels lost and alone and she wants him back and he was supposed to be traveling with her and and and…

Things I didn’t say: “It’ll be all right.” “I’m sure you will get back together with him.” “You’ll feel better in the morning.” I couldn’t say those or a hundred other things. Empty words, signifying no more than do the grunts and squeaks of a monkey at the zoo. Or, at best, lies. So I held her, searching for something to say that would make her feel better, but there was nothing, nothing but pain and contact, tears and silence. It was an honest silence, though, and it was the best I could do.

Brutus returned and immediately offered up the phrases I couldn’t. Perhaps she needed to hear them, perhaps they would even turn out to be true through some blind chance. Who was I to say? At that moment, however, his words felt hollow. Cassius returned, beer-laden, and after a couple of attempts Emily recovered her game face and banter slowly got back to safer topics. When she pulled away from me I felt the place she had been, empty now. Again.

What happened last night? Perhaps the question seems strange, since I just told you what happened, but there, alone in the darkness, it seemed like something else had moved, something I still can’t put my finger on. Alcohol happened, and a pretty girl cried on my shoulder. In the end she was grateful to all of us (especially Brutus — cheerful, giving Brutus). After everyone else went to sleep I returned alone to the walkway. I, Professor, stared ahead into the moonless black, and failed once again to determine if the sea foam was luminescing or just reflecting the last of the lights on the ship. The answer was inconclusive, as was the answer to the more pressing question: what just happened?

She had asked for my email address and this morning I gave it to her, but I don’t think I will hear from her again — unless, perhaps, she knows the answer to my question.

Tired

Today I worked on a story that has been rejected once. The changes weren’t big, but the thing does read a bit better now. It’s a little less cluttered; I think I was trying to fit a novella into a fairly long short story. A bit after lunchtime I repaired to bíl

Half-stories

I once heard an Inspirational Speech, given by a man who stood to profit from my labor. He had a good point, though. Everyone has ideas. Most people start things. Less than half make it halfway, and a tiny percent finish what they started. There is no place that is more true than in writing. It is easy to start a story, and damn hard to finish.

The other day I woke with the feeling I had a few stories languishing—thoughts with very strong beginnings, some even with middles, just waiting for an end. I did some housecleaning and found five stories more or less finished that I know could be better, five others I put in the newly-created ‘active’ pile, and some fifteen in the back burner folder. Most of those are good starts: excellent settings, fine prose, no destination.

And there, perhaps, is the difference between a beginning and an ending. Not that all prose must have a capital-p purpose, but it should have a direction. In the beginning was the word, and at the end was the period. Beyond the end is The Moment, the pause that as a writer you can only hope for, when the reader hesitates, still in the story, not yet ready to give up that world. All those images, characters, and whatnot are in the quest of delivering that one most rapturous pause, the finest hour, when the story is over but the narrative continues in the reader’s own language. We don’t write to last, we write to linger.

So, I have a collection of beginnings now. Many of them are pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I read them and smile at my own prose, my own creativity (how did I ever come up with that?). Only problem is, a beginning isn’t worth the paper it’s wiped on.

When I chose this life, I had the Inspirational Speech in mind. I came to the game confident that I would be a finisher. I’m not done yet.

The episode is over. There’s nothing to see here. Move along.

Thoughts on the theme:

The first girl I was ever in love with—not just a crush but really live-or-die in love with, consumed. the girl who burned her way through my thoughts, the girl who tormented me even as I tormented her, the girl with the power to destroy me—I guarantee she’s more beautiful now that she was then (and she was mighty damn beautiful back then)—she was not a finisher. I knew that, but that’s not why we didn’t work out. We broke up because I was a dork. But in the end, I like to tell myself, we were doomed anyway, because she was a dabbler, a dilettante, not a finisher.

I wonder where she is, now. Probably much closer to finishing something than I am.

I think you never get completely over that first love. You will never match that hopeless mad passion again. You will never have the innocence of not having failed. You only have one shot at purity. Ever after, you are fallen, and the love you feel will have a peer. The next affair will, perhaps, surpass, but never again will there be pure, unmeasured, love. When you feel that giddy euphoria, you will remember that you have felt it before.

Meanwhile, Robert Jordan is a giant in the fantasy fiction world. Damn near a dozen books in, he has yet to write an ending, even though anyone with an IQ greater than six who has been willing to hang with The Series That Will Not Die already knows exactly what will happen. Robert Jordan sucks. Stop buying his books until he comes up with an ending for once in his life, and cuts his page count in half.

William Gibson finally got off his ass and wrote a good book. If only they had forgotten to print the last chapter. In the business world they call it ‘selling past the close’; here I will call it ‘writing past the end’. He should learn from the Japanese so prevalent in his stories. He should recall Neuromancer. Still, it’s his best book in a long time. Cayce Pollard is my kind of hero. Gibson, however, seems to be suffering from the same malady I have (elevation by association?) – good setups, a search for a conclusion. I, however (elevation against a straw man?) don’t try to publish my stories with weak endings. To be fair, it’s easy for me to talk, down here, about one of my favorite writers. The dude’s pretty good. Effinger’s better, but he’s dead.

I watched an anime series recently – I won’t name it because I don’t want to spoil it for you – but at the end I just sat for quite a while. “Dang,” I said, more than once. “Wow.” I took a few deep breaths. This series was made for Japanese television and there is no way it would ever have been made in the US. It ended with two people dying, one literally, the other figuratively, sacrifices to something evil they had unwittingly supported, helpless, linked by a pair of tears and infinite regret, both meeting the most horrible fate they can imagine. Only one has the luxury of death; the other has a job to do. It was an ending, the death of all we had known before, but it was also a beginning. That’s fair, as long as there is that moment of reflection. For me, that moment stretched for hours.

Speaking of James Bond, the bad guy lying in a pool of blood is not an ending, even if his laboratory of evil (LOE) explodes.

In a crossover meditation, Mission Impossible, the television series, despite the constraint that each episode was a complete and interchangeable story, managed to come up with some of the best endings ever on television. No blood, just the bad guy having a moment when he knows he is well and truly screwed.

So where are we? So many stories undertold, overtold, retold, better left untold. Unfinished. My job is to chase down a couple of those endings, wrassle them to the dirt, and make them work for a living.