Monday, June 10, 2013
WTF, Part II
Looking back, what is particularly galling are the wrong decisions made when no other options seemed worthwhile. I had met my first wife while working for a well-known newspaper that frowned on married couples working together. Her career was farther along than mine, so she stayed and I quit--another decision of doubtful wisdom. At the end, our marriage turned disastrous. I was broke, unemployed and moved out to live in a rented room; it made perfect sense to give up my equity in a DC townhouse I had jointly purchased and helped rebuild from the ground up. Back then the only concern of any importance was to get my freedom back, and a four-story home in a doubtful part of town seemed a small sacrifice. That same house is now worth more $2.5 million dollars and in a sought after location. I’m not sure who owns it anymore but once every other year or so, I drive by. I forget how many minor injuries I sustained while rehabbing the place, but I do know I almost took a finger off while making baseboards on a router. A bit of my blood will be there forever.
The past fades away, details lose clarity and get paler as time stagger by. For several years I traveled to faraway places that were both exotic and impoverished. Colors remain: I remember waking up in Nepal to a sky so blue it hurt the eye, while in Mali the horizon was washed and pale. In Bangladesh the road from Dhaka to Chittagong was a mosaic broken by floods and droughts. In Thailand, a man knocked on my hotel door and presented me a book full of photos of available women, all of whom, he said, were his sisters. I demurred, which I am pretty sure was the right choice.
When I quit the traveling job--in hindsight, perhaps another poor decision--I had just published a novel and was sure I was on my way to literary glory. A friend of mine and I spent an afternoon going from bookstore to bookstore and sneaking my oeuvre into the shops windows. The book got favorable reviews and was optioned for film by a director who, two years earlier, had won an Oscar. I thought of buying a white suit like Tom Wolfe, but luckily didn’t. The deal never materialized and a month later I saw a bookstore employee tearing the covers of a stack of my novels. When I asked him what he was doing, he said this was standard operating procedure for books that didn’t sell. The covers were sent back to the publishers--less postage than the entire book--for refunds, and this way the books could not be resold. What the f---?
In the past few months I have felt as if a lot of the wrong decisions have come back not to haunt but to snicker. The pace of life slows but the days go by a lot faster, and choices made decades ago echo brightly. I occasionally have the sense that I am getting both transparent and immaterial, as if I could stand in traffic and it would go through me. I’m not tempted to test this newfound notion, and I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of cancerous facts or cancerous thoughts. I do know that I am tired of the drama that surrounds the disease, and that I am tired of being tired.
In light of this general weariness, it’s been important in the past few weeks to keep at least some facets of life on the lighter side. I am rereading Wodehouse; at one in the morning of a sleepless night, nothing can best Jeeves shimmering in and rescuing the hapless Bertie. I’ve been trying to write humorous stuff as well since my proximity to McLean, Virginia, is rife with possibilities. This little town near the Potomac River has one of the highest per capita income in the country. There are 18-year-olds driving Aston Martins here, and a man with a terribly bad wig prances along in a half-a-million dollar Ferrari. Beemers are poor-people cars and, not that long ago, an Asian couple tried to build a replica of Versailles about two miles from my house. They went bankrupt and the place is now deeply discounted and for sale for $15 million. The funny thing is, someone, undoubtedly, will buy it.
Right now, I’m worried about the cicadas. They’ve waited 17 years to make an appearance in my neighborhood and they’re late; they should have been here a couple of weeks ago. The last time they came I was still married, still working for the UN, and taking care of my aging father. It seems like a moment ago. What happened?