A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski. Who said that mornings had to be unkind?
These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me. Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.
They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom. (Those moments — are the best, in life: Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.) And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:
“This one’s on the house…”
(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine. That’s a handful already. Don’t hand me any more.)
Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety. But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there. So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity: The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.
Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!): Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash. The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.
Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman: because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type. But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes. Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon. Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:
“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”
And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way: so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”? Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability? Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before? And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck: Would it take them a month? a year? a trip to Brazil? another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?
And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline: The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth. Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant. And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:
“Oh really?… Congratulations… We should celebrate…”
They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”. So many! So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career. Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses. Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children. But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:
“Saw you in The Paris Review… Congratulations… We should celebrate…”
And the big dogs would lie: Yeah, we should. But they never would.
No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York. Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.
I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now. They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names. The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century: The hilarious Diaz. The empathetic Smith. The diplomatically graceful Lahiri. They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused: To the rest of us.
And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.
Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?
And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?