Moving

This weekend I pack for my third move in three years. Perhaps fittingly for the numerologists out there, I’m 30, so this means something, cosmically. Probably. At any rate, it will be the first time I’ve lived alone since I had a tiny studio in the McGill Ghetto my third year of college. Again with that number. Three. Third year, thirty, third move. Gosh. Everything is destiny.

I’ve also moved, in the past week, into a new job. My new job is basically like my old job, except my new boss is amazing and not a tyrant. Someone on LinkedIn posted something about how a worker’s displeasure with their manager makes one a less productive employee. (Ah, capitalism. Speaking of which, among other fever dreams I had last night, one entailed me arguing with someone about how they weren’t actually a capitalist, since capitalists moved capital for a living, and all they did was work. It’s a line I picked up from a trainee who didn’t make it back when I was a door-to-door hippy for the AFL-CIO, and it’s always stuck with me, to the extent that, evidently, I deploy it in fever dreams.) This is true. I was undoubtedly a less productive employee when my old boss tried to destroy me.

My new manager called me yesterday at the end of the day from Boca Raton, Florida, where she’s based, to apologize that she hadn’t been in better touch and to ask for my advice on a consortial deal her boss had proposed. It affects my territory, so I understand ostensibly why she was giving me the heads-up, but in our conversation, it was pretty clear that she was treating me as a peer.

“I’m generally not a fan of working with aggregators,” I said. You don’t have to know what an aggregator is for the rest of this to make sense.

“Yeah, I’m not sure that this is the best way forward, and I don’t want to shoot you in the foot right off the bat. But this is the first time Christoph has asked for my advice on a deal, and I don’t want to tell him it’s a bad idea. Otherwise, he might not ask me again.”

We laughed.

“Office politics,” I said. “The only ones I’m worried about are RPI and West Point. Oh, and Colgate. Oh, but wait, no. Springer never sold anything to Colgate. We need to just wait for that librarian to die.”

We bandied a few ideas about — compromises, ways to gently say no to a questionable idea from a manager without seeming combative. Alternatives, add-on conditions, exclusions, etc. It was a productive call, and it wasn’t even what she had called me to discuss.

Whatever that was will have to wait until next week. She had to go pick up her boys.

***

In the process of moving there are always doubts. I’m not sure where I’m going. But I like what I see so far.

On escape, and being found

This morning I received a call from Jessica, who extended an offer from a company that competes, in a roundabout way, with my own, to take over a position handling the Mid-Atlantic on up through the Northeast and Quebec and Ontario. I was pretty much high-fiving myself throughout the whole call, so excited to be out from under the reign of a tyrant boss who’s done her best to destroy me for the last six months. I interviewed on Thursday, during the latter half of the USMNT game against Germany where, by losing by one, we actually won. Somewhere in there is a metaphor, I’m sure.

I left the bar where I was watching the World Cup game (drinking cranberry juice, because I’m not that much of an idiot), and the people around me were like, “Seriously? You’re giving up your seat?” And I said, “I have a job interview,” and kinda shrugged my shoulders, and they wished me good luck, and then I nailed it. I fucking nailed it. I wish I could go back to those people today and say, “God bless the USA.”

But this is about escape.

And the important thing to note about escape is that you don’t necessarily recognize it when it happens. I talked to my dear friend and colleague Maura today, to let her know what was happening, and she asked me if I wanted a dinner or a lunch or any kind of send-off, because she’s a doll and I love her, and I said no. No. Because I don’t. Because all I want is to be softly let go. I don’t even know that I’ll give two weeks. I might simply arrive and depart and that will be that. 

Listen. My boss was gunning for me a month and a half ago. She also didn’t realize that I had the law on my side and that having your boss gunning for you can cause some serious emotional issues. Like, for real. Like, I’m not making this shit up. Like, I was crying every day, and that’s a symptom that a certified psychiatrist will recognize as “Not Good.” And so I took leave and my doctor basically told me to find another job, and I did. And now I have one. And so, holy moly.

I’m going into work Wednesday, whether there’s a doctor’s note or not. I’m going in to resign and then I’m going to work for a company with a boss who seems eminently awesome and sane, who understands adult life, who has already proven herself, in a 45 minute interview, to be more mature and understanding than my current boss. And then I’m probably going to leave New York. Because that’s a thing that can happen, too.

Go be free

There’s the concept of the “non-place,” a space where it’s impossible to be comfortable due to its inherent transitory nature. Where I’m remembering this from I forget at the moment, but I find that it’s a rather apt phrase for describing what precisely the life of a traveling salesman entails. To wit, living in places where impermanence is paramount, where there is nothing at all resembling an anchor.

True, Heraclitus brought all of this up back in the Presocratic years, and impermanence isn’t exactly a novel concept – our greatest poets and writers, songwriters and artists have been dealing with this shit for ages – and yet these spaces that are designed to mask them… Hiltons and JFKs and Starwoods – they only end up doing the precise opposite of what they’re intended to. Which is why I never let the housekeeping people clean my room if I’m at a hotel – BECAUSE I DON’T ALWAYS MAKE MY BED AND CHRIST ALMIGHTY AT LEAST LET ME PRETEND I’M NOT A STRANGER HERE.

The sterility, of course, is to be expected. What’s somewhat unexpected is the notion I hear on occasion from some of my friends that what I do is in any way glamorous. It’s not, and in fact it’s terribly lonesome and all I want to do is drown myself in liquor and get fired so that I can escape this routine and this rut of going back and forth and back and forth again and again in between places, never being home, or when at home simply wanting to sleep or be alone or maybe, maybe say hello to you.

This is the life of the road, perpetual anxiety, perpetual groping at strangers for some sort of feeling, and upon finding it, more often than not, losing it the next day.

I look out the window of this little courier jet, seated in the exit row on my way to Sioux Falls, head against the latch, knowing full well that all I have to do is unbuckle my seatbelt, pull the lever, and be sucked out into Dakota country. But life is beautiful and cloying and an insufferable flirt – the only one I haven’t yet given up on.

Vacation as exorcism

In Tofino, I went to the guy who ran a used-everything shop with the copy of “East of Eden” my ex-girlfriend gave me for my 30th birthday. I never read it and I was about as far west as one can be without spilling out into the Pacific, at the end of the Trans-Canada Highway, sniffing sea salt and hyacinths as Spring came up roses everywhere. I asked the proprietor of the shop if he did trades, and he said sure why not, and proceeded to try to sell me a television and a DVD player. I browsed his books and found a Murakami that I already owned, went to the register, and said, “Here. It’s a good deal.” He agreed, and I left. Ben and I drove back east.

The previous night, Ben had been completely shitfaced. He left the restaurant we were at fifteen minutes or so earlier than I did, went back to our motel room, and crashed, hard. It was around midnight. When I got back, I found that he had deadbolted the door shut, which wouldn’t be a problem if I’d had a key for the deadbolt, but which was because I didn’t. I pounded on the door for what seemed like an eternity. A woman below us came outside to let me know that people were trying to sleep.

“I’m kind of S.O.L. here,” I said. “If I had my car keys I’d just crash in the car, but those are in the room and my buddy is wasted and passed out.”

She said, “Okay, well, just don’t knock for too much longer.”

Thanks, lady.

After calling the emergency motel number and receiving no answer, and weighing the pros and cons of walking into town and trying to find another room, I did what any former house painter would do — I walked around to the back of the motel and asked myself if I thought I could climb up to our room. I decided that Ben was probably too drunk to have locked the balcony door, that I saw a route that wasn’t too perilous. I began my ascent.

In retrospect, I don’t recommend doing what I did, because it was incredibly dangerous. Shimmying along balconies and using dividers as footholds and saying to yourself, “You’d better hold on and PULL now, because if you don’t, you’ll break your fucking neck” — none of that is OSHA approved, even less so in pitch black. When I finally thrust myself over the railing and opened the door to our room, I went to Ben and shook him awake and yelled at him:

“You’re a fucking idiot! What the fuck?” I said. “I just had to risk my fucking life to get into this fucking room because you’re too dumb to lock a door properly!” Ben apologized, I went out to the balcony for a cigarette, and when I came back in, he was passed out again.

*

My friend Will told me to go to Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park to romp around in old-growth forests, and so we did, Ben and I. I picked up our car at the Enterprise station in Victoria Tuesday morning. The gas tank was 3/8 full. No problem. We’d fuel up in Port Renfrew before we went into the trees.

Which is a good idea in theory. In practice, you should know that Port Renfrew’s one gas station is closed for six months every year. When we arrived in town, I slowed down at the sign that directs tourists to food, accommodations, gasoline. Beneath the pump symbol was a single word, all caps: “CLOSED.” I couldn’t help but laugh, point.

“What?” Ben asked.

“The gas station is closed,” I said.

We went to the general store and talked to the woman behind the register who told us that the guy who runs the dump might have gas, as he apparently did quite a fine side-business selling it to tourists who are too dumb to realize that, duh, Port Renfrew doesn’t sell gas in the winter. His name was Evan. “It’s just up the road on the left. Make a turn on the dirt road and drive up the hill. You can’t miss it.”

Of course, we missed it. We pulled up the second dirt road, where there was another man who lived in a trailer on grounds that could pass for a dump. We were greeted by his dog, yipping like a little shit and trying its very best to get run over.

“Hello?” we called out.

No response.

As the dog continued to bark, the man in the trailer was eventually roused from his sleep. It was probably around 1:00 in the afternoon. He did not acknowledge our “Hellos,” instead simply telling his dog to shut the fuck up and come here. I went around to the back to ask if he had gas. There, he put a shirt on and opened the tarp that separated him from the wild, informed me that he wasn’t Evan, and told us to turn around and go to the next dirt road. He was the picture of Santa Claus, if Santa Claus lived in abject poverty in the Canadian outback.

We left.

Evan was expecting us; people in Port Renfrew apparently call one another to tell them about the idiot tourists in their midst. Ben didn’t have any cash, so I paid with American dollars. $25 for half a tank. It was a bargain, and I don’t think I’ve ever been quite as happy as I was when we finally left, knowing that we could get to wherever we needed to end up without the car dying in the middle of the wilderness. We went into the forest and flirted with 1,000 year-old giant trees, and then drove through the mountains and the rain to Nanaimo, where I flirted shamelessly with a young woman from Germany named Anita before Ben and I eventually went back to our room and slept.

*

In Courtenay, we were greeted by Ron and Leanne. Ron is one of Ben’s dad’s oldest friends. We brought them beer and scotch to thank them for hosting us for a night, and Ron took us out on a tour of the area at dusk to see deer and geese in the pastures.

I told Ben, “I fucking hate deer.” But I didn’t tell Ron.

Ron is kind of a hippy and not-a-little-bit nutty, but he’s got a house and a barn and horses and chickens, and he lives like he wants to live, so I have nothing but respect for him. As the night wore on, I snuck out to the car to smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey and look at the stars. Jesus Christ, the stars. And eventually, after his son and daughter-in-law had left, we all decided to hit the hay for the night. I told Ron, “Oh, I’ll be up at 6:00 or so, so we can do coffee together before your doctor’s appointment.” Ron has a bum knee that won’t go away. It’s probably somewhat shitty getting old. I guess I’ll know soon enough.

I was up at 5:30, and Ron was up an hour or so later. We had coffee and talked about this and that as Leanne got up. We watched the morning news before Ben came downstairs and Ron left for the doctor. When he came back, it was pouring rain and I helped him with some firewood and we all pretty much agreed that the conditions were pretty shitty for the fishing we had planned. Instead we played cribbage. Ron won the first game, and I won the second. Leanne went to her spin class and Ben and I gave her hugs and thanked her for everything. Then we went out for lunch.

Ron brought us to what might be the shittiest diner I’ve ever been to, but it was the thought that counted. I had a sandwich. Ron paid. At the end, when we were leaving and doing another set of hugs, Ron told Ben and me, “Take care of one another.” Which maybe is what the whole vacation had been about, after all.

The storage unit (or, The haggle)

There are two hard and fast rules to life: 1) If a pretty woman asks you to dance at a tiki restaurant in Vancouver, you should always say yes, and 2) If a friend tells you that clearing out his storage unit will only take a couple of hours, you should replace “hours” with “days” before you volunteer.

And so I followed the first rule and ignored the second and wound up yesterday morning in Surrey, British Columbia — a bright, beautiful Sunday — with Ben, who had, in the six years since he had first deposited all of his parents’ and family’s keepsakes there, lost the key to the unit, forgotten the access code, and vastly underestimated and misremembered the amount of stuff can fit inside a 5×10 metal box.

I think her name was Lila. She was the attendant at the storage unit place. She was very helpful.

“Do you have a locksmith with you?” she asked us.

No, we do not.

“My district manager can come by and break into it for you, but he won’t be able to do it until sometime later in the week,” she said.

Since Ben and I were slated to depart the next day for Vancouver Island, and since he’d already rented the minivan (another hard and fast rule, by the way: rent a bigger van), I asked if we could try to break into it ourselves.

“Yes, of course. I’d just have to be there to witness it,” Lila said. “I think Canadian Tire rents drills by the hour.”

This is how we came to find ourselves at Canadian Tire, buying an 18-volt DeWalt cordless drill and a rather large metal bit, watching YouTube videos on how to break a cylinder lock. This is how it all began.

“I don’t know if this is even going to work,” I said. “I mean, I’ve used a drill plenty of times, but I’ve never broken into a storage unit with one before.”

Ben was optimistic. I was beginning to regret mentioning the idea in the first place.

We left the battery to charge in the office and went to the unit to size the bit and orient ourselves in the large maze of hopes and dreams, boxed up and packed away, to be retrieved when the timing was right. We brought beers into the cool, climate-controlled building, and bumped into Lila on the way back down to the van. She looked at the beers, at us, and frowned a bit. We had been so quirky and nice till now.

But when the battery was charged, she followed us up to the unit and bore witness as I got some purchase in the metal with the driver and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed. I took a break. Lila said, “You’re getting close, but you should know that some people bang their heads against the door when the lock finally breaks.”

I braced my knee against the door and thanked her. When the lock finally went, I was glad she had given me the heads-up.

And then: a mountain of boxes.

Ben sorted through them, separating those that would go to the Salvation Army from those that would be kept — the junk from the sentimental. We loaded up a van full. I went outside to smoke my last cigarette and get some more. I got another stupid idea.

In Surrey on Sundays there is a flea market, the signs for which I had noticed on our way into town and on my trip to the gas station across the street. I brought us two more beers from the van and proposed it to Ben.

“What if instead of donating all of this stuff, we go to that flea market down the street and find someone to sell it to?” There was plenty of good shit in the discard pile — an antique cradle, paintings in neat frames, teacups, silverware, sturdy furniture, a quaint parasol. Plenty of good shit that some crazy flea market vendor would buy if we hooked him with some of the nicer stuff on top of our van-load and convinced him to go big or go home.

“Like that show Storage Wars?” Ben said.

Exactly.

The flea market in Surrey is held outdoors next to a little pony racetrack — men in chariots stood behind their steeds coaxing them around the track over and over again with no particular purpose. Small children sat on their parents’ shoulders and oohed and ahhed. We divided our efforts. The strategy: find the people whose wares most aligned with what was in the throw-pile, bring them back to the van, and get them to buy everything else, sight-unseen.

Gunther said that he wished I’d come to him in the morning, but that at this hour, he couldn’t afford to pack up and check out the unit. Mel reported to Ben that he would be happy to come by the next morning. Then I met Tom.

“Hi, how are ya?” Tom said he was fine thanks and what could he do me for and the like.

I explained the situation. He asked the man at the station next to his to mind his things while he went to investigate. Tom is in his mid-50’s, with a belly out to here, which he explained was the result of a recent stomach surgery and not poor eating habits, though it was likely a combination of both. Goateed and slow-footed, his Canadian accent was as thick as maple syrup, though we were only about ten miles from the American border. He expressed his pleasure that we had parked illegally, rather than out among the used pick-ups and 90’s sedans in the vast parking lot. Business, apparently, was not so hot today, despite the weather.

“Maybe it’s because the weather’s so nice?” I suggested. “People might just be out enjoying the Vitamin D.”

Tom shrugged.

I popped the trunk, where the paintings were on display. Tom rifled through the rest of the boxes and told me that there wasn’t much he thought he could sell in there, but that he’d give me $20 for the paintings.

Deal. Also, his first tell.

When we got back to his lot, he said he might be interested in taking the rest of the stuff off our hands if the price was right and we could drop it off at his house down the road. I went and found Ben. We went back to Tom, who was in the middle of a faux-dramatic negotiation with an old bat who wanted to purchase a lion doll from him. She’d already purchased a tiger from someone else. Tom was explaining the superiority of his product to the tiger, his reason for asking for $20. She was having none of it. In the name of building friendly rapport, I stepped in and said that I might want to buy the lion. A trick commonly played by con-men and thieves to dupe the mark into paying a premium for an inferior product.

“Ah, you don’t want that lion, you just want to get me out of here,” she cackled. Not the case. I just wanted Tom to like me, and Tom knew the game I was playing.

She told him that she’d be back later and went off to find other trinkets for her mantle. Tom, Ben, and I went over the situation again: three vanloads full of inheritance. The question was simply a matter of price.

“$300 for everything,” I said. “$150,” he countered. Another trick among hagglers — always halve the first offer. “$225,” I said.

“I’m not a rich guy, you know?” Tom said, and proceeded with his sob story about how not-rich he was, and about how hard it was out there on the lot today. Trying to lend credibility to his counter. Even though I already liked him, I really liked him then. He was good at what he did. 

We vaguely settled on $200. Tom called his roommate Sean and told him that two young men would be coming by with a few loads of things, and could he please direct us to the garage on the left when we arrived. Tom said he would pay Sean the $20 for whatever it is Tom’s yippy dog broke in the house. Tom said, “Yeah, you should probably move your hockey stuff out of there so it doesn’t get mixed up with their stuff.”

Ben offered to take pictures to back our claim. At the time, this might have seemed reasonable, but in retrospect, it simply gave Tom the upper hand in the negotiation, as we discovered when, upon sending said pictures from the unit, he texted me to say that it didn’t really look like much, and he wasn’t sure how much of it he could sell, and yadda, yadda, yadda. We went back to take more pictures. He continued this song and dance via text message. Then he said he wasn’t interested.

Bullshit.

I called him. “Look, Tom, we can simply bring all of this to the Salvation Army, and they can have it. We have other options, you know? We just went to the flea market on a lark and happened to find you.”

“What’s your bottom line?” he asked.

Sigh.

I told him we’d take the $150, he agreed, and told me, “I really hope I’m not just buying a bunch of junk here. I really do, because otherwise I’ll never trust anyone again.”

When we hung up, I laughed. That was his best line of the day.

Three loads later, in Tom’s living room, we exchanged pleasantries and he ponied up the $150. Ben, in a hurry to leave (we were meeting his high school history teacher to play pool in 45 minutes) took the money. I pulled it from his hands and counted it. I looked at Tom. “Just wanted to double-check,” I said.

We both smiled.

The library conference (or, Austin, Texas)

My father and his family spent several years in Austin, Texas while he was growing up. I believe, but do not know, that his own father, my grandfather, was at the time earning his PhD in something or other at UT. (My father never much talked about his father when I was growing up — likely because he became a nasty, polio-induced, wheelchair-ridden drunk, even if his students at Salem State College wrote fawningly of his teaching abilities later, in ways that would make my father misty-eyed when he recounted the letters to us.) Landing in Austin, then, at the end of SXSW, was a bit of a homecoming, just as it was last year when I landed there for the first time. Despite the old and young hippies lounging at the airport, draped across 60L backpacks and waiting for their flights after the festival, I feel as though Texas is somehow in my blood, even if Austin is likely not at all like it was when my father lived there. I exited the plane, packed my pea coat in my roller bag, rolled up my sleeves, put on my sunglasses, and went outside for a cigarette in the wind and sun. I dodged hippies and went for a drink in the airport bar to decompress. I admired a young 20-something blonde in the shortest and tightest black dress I’ve ever seen. Then I left and got into a cab.

I arrived at the taco shack/bar where Kim and Dan were waiting. Kim was at the bar. We hugged. I bought a margarita on her tab and went out to the back patio to say hello to Dan and sit in the sun. I put on sunblock. We talked about their drive down from Tulsa, the famous Italian place in the middle of nowhere with the best mozzarella they’d had since New York. They made fun of me for having a drink at the airport bar before coming to visit them at Rio Rita, and I let them. Maura came. 4:00 PM arrived. Our rental house was now open for business.

We packed our shit in Kim’s BMW and drove.

Wilson and No Outlet. At the end of a cul de sac, our place didn’t have proper signage, but I guess that’s what Google Maps is for. We arrived to a gravel driveway, a hammock in the frontyard, a truly epic tree spidering out over the entire property. A firepit. Lounge chairs. A mid-century one-story with an open floor plan and a retro 1950’s refrigerator in the kitchen. Shitty water pressure in the kitchen sink. Labels on every cabinet — “Plates,” “Glasses,” “Picnic Supplies,” “Spices.” The spices were simply salt and pepper, maybe some paprika, but the rental was the kind of place where you inherited whatever the previous occupants had left behind, and since the previous occupants were SXSW’ers, there was plenty of beer in the fridge. We chose our rooms. Maura got the master bedroom with the private bathroom, since she was the only woman staying with us. Jason, Dan, and I didn’t give a fuck, so I took the room in the back, since it was close to the backdoor, I wake up early, and I like to smoke a cigarette first thing.

We ordered $247 worth of fried chicken and sides from Lucy’s and held a party for all of our favorite librarians. This was ER&L, and since we all stay in hotels so much, we figured we’d change it up a bit. There was a fire pit. There were all the hot shit librarians in the academic world there. There was leftover whiskey and dozens and dozens and dozens of Lone Stars and Shiner Bocks, platters of fried chicken gizzards and livers, collared greens, potato salad, mac ‘n cheese, salad, ribs. The whole night, our librarian contingent worried that they’d smell like a campfire the next day.

“Just send your clothes down to the lobby of your hotel and have them wash them for you,” we said. We had a washer and dryer in the house.

Which they probably did, but Emily texted me the next day to report that her glasses still smelled like campfire.

***

ER&L, for a publisher (especially one based in NY), is the ultimate conference, even if it rings a bit false at times. On the one hand, all of the important people in academic libraries are there; on the other, like any conference, it can read like just so many TED talks, which is why I didn’t even bother to register. Most importantly, though, is that you get to escape from NY and go to Austin in the middle of the worst winter ever. My goal: meet some customers in the courtyard of the conference center, listen to them, take some notes, try and figure out what’s going on, and go from there. I’m in sales. I pitched precisely one school. The rest of them? Fuck it. I was telling a friend of mine earlier that there are two kinds of effective salespeople.

  • Those with common sense, empathy, and street smarts; AND
  • Those who are borderline sociopaths

I’m of the former camp.

Librarians don’t like being “sold to,” and they don’t like pushy people, and they really just want to talk to you about what’s going on, and ultimately I consider myself a good listener. And since I don’t give a fuck about my company or my job anymore, since my boss is very much of the latter camp and virtually impossible to work for (I’ll be gone by December), I’m basically just there to hang out and meet people.

There’s that Radiohead documentary: Meeting People is Easy. Which is supposed to be a joke, or a Deeply Critical Statement About The Disassociation Inherent In Modern Capitalist Society, but really it is. Just say, Hi, I wanna meet you. Don’t be a dick, and learn how to take no for an answer and move on.

Pretty simple.

I had three meetings the first day of the conference. No idea what we talked about. I didn’t try to negotiate or sell anything at all. I’ve made some of my best sales that way. I once spent two hours talking with a librarian about how shitty it was that the school she worked for was investing in a new stadium of some sort instead of fixing the shoddy construction at the main library. That’s it. Two months later, she called me up and spent an ungodly amount of money with me.

The lesson, contra Glengarry Glen Ross: Fuck ABC. Fuck “Always Be Closing.” The lesson is, “Don’t be a dick, understand that your clients are people. Fuck the sale. It will come if it needs to.”

I should write a self-help book.

***

Sian and I met up Monday afternoon and my heart ached and I let her talk about her work and her things while mostly keeping quiet, because that’s simply always the way our relationship has worked. Partially because we’ve always been so on-again, off-again, only to be interrupted by a long stretch of off-again while we both fell in love with other people. I remember her once saying, last January as we sat in my living room, that she didn’t know if I could ever be silly with her, and I just didn’t know how to respond. I haven’t since. Because of course like any human being, I’m a fucking goofball once you get to know me. And perhaps this barb has been one I’ve never been willing to pull, like one of those fish you throw back because the hook is too deep and you’re tired of trying to pull it out.

We went on a bike ride on the ridiculous cruisers at my rental, and when we got back and she laid in the hammock and called a taxi to go back to the conference center, I couldn’t tell if it was an invitation for me to join or if she was just enjoying lovely, lovely Austin. And so I stood around somewhat awkwardly and when the taxi came I went with her to the conference, and I couldn’t tell if we were flirting or not, but because she has a boyfriend and I’m one of those assholes who doesn’t fuck with another dude’s relationships, I said, “See ya later,” and then didn’t see her at all again. She didn’t ask about Francesca and I didn’t ask about Bill. We kept it chaste and platonic. And that was probably the right move. Or maybe it wasn’t.

***

Emily and I spent Tuesday afternoon eating pizza and taking silly pictures. I commandeered the Scientology booth near UT for a photo-op, and Emily told me some crazy stories about a person we both know and I said, “Run like hell.” But I’m worried about her. I really am. Because no matter how much I care for her, I think the person we both know is a sociopath, and though I’ve never dealt with that in a personal relationship, I think I can recognize the behavior when I see it.

I told her to come by the house later on to watch True Detective and eat leftover Lucy’s. I think she went out and partied instead. I hope she’s all right, even though I know that she’s much, much stronger than I am.

Father’s Day (Or, Fly Fishing in Maine)

This is a post I composed for another website back when I did that sort of thing. For some reason, I’ve had my Dad in my head a lot lately, and I dunno. Maybe since I’ve already written the best shit I ever could about him, I thought it was worth sharing here. Maybe because this time of year is when my mother and I were waiting on my sister and brother, desperately, to come home and bear witness three years ago.

I remember the last time his high school buddy Frank saw him alive, enfeebled and incoherent, when Frank said goodbye and he just said, “Frank. Frank.” And he smiled. I had to leave the room, I couldn’t stop crying so hard.

So here’s this.

***

“I took up fly fishing when Danny was in Iraq, to keep my mind off of it. It was the only thing I could do to stay focused. You just watch the water all day. Your line. It was the only thing that worked for me when Danny was in Iraq.” Dave is Dan’s father and he is seated to my left. Dan is seated to my right. We’re in Dave’s elevated 2002 Dodge Ram pickup and I’m riding bitch, awkwardly adjusting my legs whenever we need to downshift. We’re driving to northwestern Maine. Dave is telling me how he began fly fishing.

Dave is about six foot even, 275 pounds. Bald, he wears a baseball cap most of the time. Far-sighted, his glasses fog up when he fishes in the rain, but he can’t tie his flies (flies being the fly fishing equivalent of regular old fishing lures) as well with contact lenses on as he can with glasses. As life is a constant compromise, he chooses to wear glasses the morning we go out to Magalloway River, betting on the high pressure system moving into the region. That morning it rains, hard, for several hours. We all get soaked. We all hike about on the banks of the muddy Magalloway wondering exactly how we got ourselves into this situation in the first place, and when the sun comes out (finally) we rejoice until we don’t, and when we don’t it’s because it’s raining again. Because it rains and rains and rains on the Magalloway over Father’s Day weekend — at least, it does on Saturday morning.

But in the end the sun comes out. You can watch the sunset over Rangeley Lake. It’s pretty.

***

The moose we eventually see is a yearling, but we have to admit that we were grimly hopeful that the ambulance we saw turn around and flash its lights was responding to a moose-automobile accident. It is not. We never figure out what the ambulance was for. Anyway, “Watch out for moose,” Dave says. He’s been saying it all weekend. I’ve never seen a moose in the wild. I don’t know that I’ve ever even seen a moose. Jesus Christ, how can I not have ever seen a moose? I must have seen a moose. Maybe I have seen one, after all.

I realize that I’m at the age where I can’t be sure about things in my memory anymore, and it worries me, because that means I’m dying. Which of course you can only do while you’re still alive.

***

“So your dad died, huh?” Dave says. We’re alone. Dan was inspired to fish our campground’s lake during a lull in the wind. Dave and I are barbecuing asparagus and carrots in steak juice and butter. They will be delicious.

“Yeah,” I say, cheerily. I’d made a toast to my Dad the previous night, in the context of a long and drunken conversation about God and the age of Planet Earth (Dave says 6,000 years, I say 5 billion-ish; he’s a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, and he’s pretty cool). I’d said, “I actually am more religious now than I’ve been since I was a child, because I want to believe. I want for there to be a heaven, where my Dad is happy and looking over us and saying hello in sunsets and shit. But I’m also shitfaced, and honest enough to admit that committing to that isn’t something that jives with the rest of my worldview. But, fuck that, I’m drunk. My point is, I have become slightly more religious lately, because I’ve never wanted that before, but I kinda do now? I don’t know, man.  I’ve never just fucking longedto say hello to someone again,” — and this is the part where you, or I, tear up, and STOP, goddamnit, because we are men and there is a campfire and you are never going to see anyone who’s gone ever again — “And, fuck it. Fuck it, you know? I’d just like to say that my old man was a great man, and I miss him, and I always will, and that’s that, and cheers.”

And we have a cheers all around, and I look hard into the fire, because it’s the only way I can avoid breaking down.

***

Sunday morning. Today. Androscoggin River. 30 minutes up an old logging road, over a bridge with no railings, spindly, spiny, foresty Maine all around us, wind ripping like caterpillars if caterpillars ripped, which they don’t. Dave stays in the truck while Dan and I wade down the river. I bring three beers, even though we begin at 8:00 in the morning, because fuck-it-I’m-on-vacation-and-I’m-fucking-fishing-and-I-want-to-nap-on-the-ride-home, that’s why. I practice my roll cast. It’s getting pretty good after three days, but I still don’t know how to tie a knot worth shit, and ultimately this will be the difference between adoptees of fly fishing and rejectors: this tolerance for knot-tying. I can’t really get with it. But I do like to stand in the water and wish for fish.

“Your main problem,” Dan says, “is that you don’t know when you’ve got a catch,” which is undoubtedly true. I can’t tell the difference between a genuine bite and the motion of the line in an eddy, or down a rapid, or stuck on a rock. I can’t snag the bites I get if I don’t know they’re bites, which makes catching the fish my flies are tempting a bit more difficult. “Yep,” I reply. “I can’t.”

“Let’s get going.”

We go.  Along the way I snag my first fish of the weekend, an eight-inch landlocked salmon, accidentally. I go to reel my line in and notice a pull, and I say to Dan, “I’ve got one!” and he says, “Bring it to shore. Rod up!”And when I pull it off the hook, the salmon wiggling and striving for something not made-up, I say to myself and no one else, “Hey, Dad.” And the fish stops wriggling because it’s out of oxygen, and I pull it off the hook and coax it back to life under water, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t just splash its way out of sight against a backdrop of mountaintops and swamp grass and dangerous bridges. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t disappear down the river, never to be seen or heard from again.

I’ll be damned, old man.