another Thanksgiving weekend in the books. a laid-back weekend (with a Friday of work squeezed in-between). simple lunch with family (though i prefer real cranberries instead of the canned ones). hours of sitting and watching movies, at home and at theaters (realized how much i love You’ve Got Mail). hoching bowl v (76-34, lots of inappropriate trash-talking, and knowing last year’s wasn’t the final one). thirty bucks for a steak dinner with wine (only in suburbia!). web stuff (i used lots of orange this time). a fine bottle of sauvignon blanc (kim crawford – no cork). a return to flushing (and the never-ending 7 ride). having dinner with jj and best hairstylist ever (just call her “noona”). seeing old friends (tubs, the “others,” and more). rethinking what wally said about having dreams (maybe it’s good to have them after all). inability to escape banality, but not minding a sentimental bid for thanks (to whom? doesn’t matter).
A cigarette break. He doesn’t smoke much anymore, not with his new reformed lifestyle. He works out now. Today he ran three miles on the treadmill at Mountainside Fitness, the one in Mesa, where he has been a member for over two months. He watches the high-definition flatscreen television, which is playing Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN. He listens to Beastie Boys and Green Day on his iPod. His gut has diminished considerably. He likes the dry air of Arizona, and he never knew so many stars were in the sky at night.
He gets into his 1998 Toyota Camry, a maroon one, that he bought used for five thousand dollars from an old white couple a week after he moved out to the West. Its smell still has hints of old people, but his occasional smoking and drive-thru meals have helped to replace the odor of antiquity with the fragrance of a middle-age man lacking a family. He keeps his gym bag in the backseat, along with newspapers, magazines, empty soft drink cups, and other artifacts of daily life.
He works part-time at Bookmans, the Mesa used books, DVD, music CD store only twelve minutes from Mountainside Fitness. He works the help desk, directing customers, mostly the elderly who aren’t shy about asking questions, to the right sections of the store. He also looks up used DVD titles for suburban teens and housewives. One time, an elderly man, probably in his late sixties, came and asked for Bertrand Russell’s The Problems of Philosophy. This sparked a conversation about Russell’s other work, A History of Western Philosophy, which he had read at his father’s behest as a college student. The pleasant conversation, mostly about Russell’s clear and sometimes witty writing style, made him feel warm inside, and the elderly man, although much older and frailer, reminded him of his father. He received a paltry hourly wage, but he was content with the pace of his job. When things slowed down in the middle of the day, he used the computer to read NYTimes.com to stay current with the world from the familiar East Coast point of view. He even browsed articles in the Metro section. For lunch, he would drive over to Panda Express and have sweet and sour chicken.
There are no photos in his one-bedroom apartment. He likes his spartan decor, and he loves it that he has, at least going by Manhattan standards, a spacious living room. A used dark green fabric couch he bought at a garage sale occupies one wall and faces a twenty-inch television that was on sale at the Best Buy near Fiesta Mall. He has a sturdy $300 chocolate-brown bookshelf, which he splurged on at Pier 1 Imports, that he uses to store a modest collection of books, bought with an employee discount from Bookmans. He fries Spam and eggs for dinner and has it with rice and pickles from a jar. He plays The Beatles on his computer, which he also keeps in the living room.
He waits for Bernice while sipping on an iced tea at Cafe Pinot. Finding parking in downtown LA was a difficult task, but he managed to find a spot and wonders why Bernice hasn’t shown up yet. It was an eight-hour drive by himself, and he planned on driving back after dinner. He didn’t mind the long trip. What else would he have done on a day off in Mesa? He had worked out five times during the week, and he had taken care of all the necessary errands – laundry, bills, groceries, vacuuming – even before the weekend had started. Bernice was in Los Angeles for a few days on a business trip, and she had called him out of the blue, not really knowing how far Phoenix was from LA. Maybe a stop at a music store to pick up some new CDs after dinner? He had listened to his Oasis CD about six times during the drive.
The Wild Alaskan King salmon was a bit overcooked, but he had enjoyed the braised artichokes and the green olives that came with it. He only had a glass of wine knowing he would have to drive back. Bernice wore a fashionable dark brown pinstriped suit with a matching Coach purse and thin-strapped heels. She seemed to have gotten tan in the short time she had been in town, and it made her look younger. As he stared blankly at the endless road ahead, he reflected on his time in LA. She was curious about his new life and asked many questions, but an underlying tone of confusion, maybe even frustration, seemed to seep through whenever she responded to his descriptions of mundane, suburban routines. They shared some enjoyable moments back in New York for the brief period they knew each other, but time did not afford them a closeness that might have convinced him to stay put. A movie date, a few dinners, a cocktail drink, and a cup of coffee at their last meeting. There was no sex. He thought it would do her a disservice by having sex with her before his move. He wanted to be gentlemanly, and to be a friend. She was smart, and he liked that about her. She was also guarded, which he also liked about her. She was driven and motivated, which he envied.
After dinner, she led him up to her hotel room, and they made love for the first time. He wondered if his workouts were finally paying dividends, but noticed the way his midsection still seemed undefined and dismissed the idea. Perhaps she had been lonely and wanted a good fuck? Or was this simply an expression of her gladness in seeing him again? He laughed off such an indulgent thought. He shyly told her that this would be the first time for him in two years. She looked at him endearingly and then pulled off his belt.
He wondered if he would ever see her again. They promised each other to write emails and call from time to time, but they were far from passionate young lovers, and he knew that sooner or later the inconvenience of it all would work its way into fading out any chance of romance between them. Wait, he thought, but it was just sex. He shook his head violently and pressed play on his car CD player. Oasis began for the seventh time.
He spots Janet in a magazine while he is at work. It’s a story in Runner’s World about successful women professionals who balance work with an intense running regimen. Janet has shifted her focus from triathlons to marathons. She has been made partner at a fast-growing law firm and has participated in both the New York and Boston marathons in the past year. Her husband, James Caldwell, trains with her and is a managing director at Morgan Stanley. A split-pane photo-image of Janet in a suit standing in her office on the left side and a photo of her running in Central Park on the other side occupies the top right area of the magazine spread. She looks even prettier than he remembers. A co-worker, Michelle, walks by and looks over his shoulder. “Robert! Is that the type of woman you like? You’ve been staring at the picture for the past five minutes!” She gives a slight laugh and leans over to read the caption. “Wow, looks like she’s done really well for herself.”
He looks up at Michelle, who is white, a bit overweight, red-headed, and jolly, with freckles. He smiles and nods. “She just reminded me of someone I used to know. Not my type, though.” He closes the magazine and puts it back on the shelf. A shy teenager approaches the help desk and asks if Bookmans carries Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur.
“The one with Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas, right?” he asks.
“No. Sorry. We don’t carry it. Might wanna try Amazon.com though,” he says.
The kid, disappointed, walks over to the New Releases wall of the DVD section.
lev loan quals