We are back on the air

Dear Internet, it has been over a week since my last confession. It is remarkable to consider, given the relative brevity of that period, how much time I’ve had for cardinal sins, and how easy I expect my penance to be.

It makes me melancholy to miss days on this blog; it leaves my own personal fossil record with a big hole. I’m also sorry to miss the new entries in the blogs on your right. I’ve finally got Internet working in my dorm room, though, so I should be back to browsing my cyber-friends tonight.

For another half hour, I am stationed in my dormitory, waiting for students to arrive. I have a series of booklets, keys, keychains, and papers for them. The air conditioner is droning away; I’m wearing sandals, and there is cool air between my toes. Despite the fatigue and the Red Bull fighting it out in my head, I’m happy.

Let’s go back in time and try to figure out why.

Last Thursday I bought two books by Chuck Klosterman. It is hard to understand why I didn’t find out about him sooner, and downright embarrassing that somebody working for Borders in a cubicle was my connection. He was sitting on an end-cap next to David Sedaris and two or three other hip books, such as “Buy Only Dynamite: A Tribute to Chuck Palahniuk” and “The Top 500 Sex Pistols Bootlegs of All Time”.

I could quote a lot of things from Klosterman #1, in my case “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs,” and believe me, I already do all the time. The reason is that I now frequently attend sushi dinners with people I don’t know and cocktail parties with other Stanford alums, and being able to quote a bright theory about the Sims or the Real World is, in these situations, equivalent to knowing CPR at a shipwreck party.

Klosterman on himself, and vaguely on the “Left Behind” series of Rapture fictions: “That’s what happens when you start to understand that most things cannot be emotively understood: You’re able to make better conversation over snifters of brandy, but you become an unfeeling idiot. You go from believing in objective reality to suspecting an objective reality exists; eventually, you start trying to make objectivity mesh with situational ethics, since every situation now seems unique. And then someone tells you that situational ethics is actually an oxymoron, since the idea of ethics is that these are things you do all the time, regardless of the situation.”

The best thing about Klosterman, as it happens, is his wonderful inability to grasp the Hegelian idea that perceiving a boundary is logically equivalent to crossing it. He’s very easy to like, because he writes truthfully from the standpoint of a deceived idiot. (He actually calls himself an idiot in the passage, as you can see.)

I am fairly certain about what would happen if I met Klosterman. It would depend on my mood (he’s a professional interviewer, and such people don’t really have moods in any authentic sense, so it wouldn’t depend on his). I might be in one of my casual moods, in which case we’d get along great, except for the fact that I’d be a little sycophantic, which must happen all the time now that he’s one of those people who is a) just like you and b) prominently featured at Borders.

(Note: he is also one of those writers who makes you think about meeting him, unlike, say, G. W. F. Hegel.)

On the other hand, I might be in one of my Old Testament moods, in which case Klosterman would get nervous and say a few well-moderated things, and then try to flee. He would have the 21st century version of what we used to call discovering that someone is not our sort. Both of us would begin to find the hard alcohol in our drinks noxious. Then, still drunk and half-forgetful, he would go and write an essay about the beauty of having convictions.

Hence my belief that, like those of you who bought the 1st Velvets album and are now Chrissie Hynde, we should all of us go out and write a book. The book is the only meeting-place where the problem of “not our sort” is held at bay. This is because the same ethical perspectives that are so uncomfortable in normal conversation, fuel books. By establishing a universal response to a particular situation, a book unites its readers (which eventually include the writer herself, who brings her book to the beach for light reading) in the experience of sympathy.

I hate to be disappointing, but I have to add that this (i.e. Klosterman) is not exactly why I’m happy. It’s part of it, that’s all.

When I stepped off the commuter train and dropped my bags on an Andover street, I heard three bursts of thunder. I had to face an inconvenient truth: the East has real weather. Then the clouds, which were the color of trenchcoats, started slobbering on my face, and somebody took an enormous flash photograph of the entire world.

Another burst of thunder. There wasn’t anyplace to go. The convenience store had a small door, too small for my red suitcase, and pitiful eaves. So I stood there, and in the course of about two minutes had streams of water running down my face, shoulders, and legs, without a single dry spot on any of my clothes.

The rain was almost body temperature. Eventually I made my way into the store, phoned the school, and was picked up and taken to a cool, dry office. I’ve known the people there for three years, and they found me pretty amusing to look at.

You can imagine how hungry, how wet, how generally ridiculous I felt. Moving suitcases around Boston is no joke. But the invisible part of me was fine. I had a room waiting for me, and a good dinner. Friends (fellow teachers) arrived within an hour, and later we went out to hunt beers.

I was anticipating all this when the bottom fell out of the clouds. I was anticipating being welcomed. That’s how our kids feel this afternoon, as they arrive. Klosterman’s definition of ethics explains why I’m happy here: The people are like this all the time.

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