What Happened

Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly, if our lives could be like that
-Bob Dylan

I have received a few requests for descriptions of what happened over the previous weekend; I’ll do my best to describe them in full. The cost is, of course, a great deal of self-indulgence which may prompt you to skip to the next post. In which case, my blessing.

(I want to thank the friends who made the whole eighteen-hour finale possible…and spectacular. Many of them have shown up here, as commenters, and fellow bloggers. Here are merely the ones with web presences: JuniperJune, the good people at Dutch Missionary Records, Tomemos, sadkingjonathan, metamanda, HenHen, Julia Glassman, Stove, Brandon, and Common Smartweed. Simply put, the events of this Saturday proved that the community here at Irvine is caring, classy, and a whole lot of fun. Thanks also to everyone who posted or e-mailed birthday wishes.)

On my actual birthday, I went out for brunch with a friend. We ate at a small, wholesome place (the kind that has organic coffee in more than one flavor), and I was treated to a huge tuna melt on fresh bread, and a huge toffee latté. We drove to the beach close by; it was a typical November day in Orange County, by which I mean that I wanted desperately to get out of the sun, into the water. However, it is not legal to go swimming in Orange County unless you know how to surf. In the afternoon, I attempted to read the entirety of Samuel Richardson’s novel Clarissa. I failed, as I had the night before. It nonetheless made an enormous impression on me, especially in passages like these:

He is notoriously, nay, avowedly, a man of pleasure; yet [she] says that in anything he sets his heart upon, or undertakes, he is the most industrious and persevering mortal under the sun. He rests, it seems, not above six hours in the twenty-four, any more than you. He delights in writing. [...] But supposing it to be true, that all his vacant nightly hours are employed in writing, what can be his subjects? If, like Caesar, his own actions, he must undoubtedly be a very enterprising and very wicked man, since nobody suspects him to have a serious turn, and decent as he is in his conversation with us, his writings are probably not such as will redound either to his own honour or ot the benefit of others, were they to be read.

I hope you will agree with me in saying that nothing can be funnier than the various self-deceptions at play here, and throughout the novel; of the heaped mess we make when we try to consider a person in full; and of the confounding of all propriety which animates and underwrites this immensely proper tragedy.

Friday morning I spent answering letters and calls. By early Friday evening, I was out in Newport, trying not to spill Kikkoman on my copy of The Phenomenology of Perception, which I neither read nor discussed, but which provided an excellent pretext for having a very long series of sushi plates (including unagi, since miso asked), and hot tea and beer. (The computer scientists have gotten ahold of Merleau-Ponty, so you should read that if you want to understand the revolutions to come.) I when home to a game of poker that, unbeknownst to me, foreshadowed no less than two wonderful books on poker as gifts from friends. Poker wrapped up quite early, at six in the morning, and there were plenty of hours (four and a half) to sleep before brunch.

Brunch was champagne, homemade quiches and bread pudding (with rum sauce), plus donuts, bagels, juice, smoked salmon, and a lot more. Everyone in attendance was asked to bring something they’d written no later than high school. The readings included:

• A rhyming ballad about a dwarf in love with an elf: “He came upon the zombies five / He killed them, though they were not alive.”

• An entire world based on the Thundercats and featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Debbie Gibson, and Chinese ghosts in small roles.

• A series of acoustic songs performed live, including a song about the destruction of nature, and a song about monkeys.

• A poem self-consciously reflecting on metaphors for love, with the line “If I could translate my pain into vegetation.”

• A parody of Siddhartha, his adoring friend Govinda, and his dog (also named Govinda).

• A series of astounding odes, one of which used the phrase “warm, fat rain.”

• Journal entries about the death of Jerry Garcia, and the possibility that “no-one will ever understand me.”

• An existentialist gangster story written when The Sopranos was just a gleam in David Chase’s eye: “He had ambition, which was stupid. If he’d been worth anything, his ambitions would have gotten him somewhere by now.”

Needless to say, we’ve spent four days now wondering how to write stuff like this again, in some mature and publishable way.

In the interim, I watched Casino Royale. It is pure, sterling fantasy: calling room service for wine and caviar turns out witty, watching someone cut straw out of a straw chair is terrifying, and two people sitting on a plane have a really good conversation. The whole thing looked sleeker and darker, with none of the idiotic bright colors or impossible toys, and none of Pierce Brosnan doing his insufferable impression of a British Serge Gainsbourg.

Then we all had hamburgers, sped off to Johnny’s (described somewhat in my earlier post), and from there the evening snowballed into singing, and dancing, and making toasts, and playing pool. As dozens of people can tell you, having heard it breathlessly from me, at some point I jumped an enemy 4-ball to sink the 8, thus winning back my family’s ranch in Montana from a one-eyed tattoo artist named Shakey. The place filled up, and we were forced, if we knew the words to “Paradise City,” to shout them.

Apparently, while all of this was happening, another party was happening at my place. It was, admittedly, a dim spot in an otherwise brilliant chain of events, as some folks let themselves in, drank all my Johnny Walker, and annoyed the neighbors enough to warrant a visit from the police. They wrote “Happy Birthday, Joe!” in ketchup and Oreos on my kitchen table (the Oreo was the bottom of the exclamation point). You may not know this, but ketchup dries into something hard and fierce. In the morning, I found the ketchup and the empties, and went to work with a large quantity of paper towels. My leather jacket was gone. I had several voicemails to answer.

Thus resumed the more normal business of living.

So affirmed on this day, November 22, 2006. A pleasant birthday to you, whenever that might be.

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