"There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, 'Morning, boys, how's the water?'
And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, 'What the hell is water?'"
-D.F.W., Commencement Speech, Kenyon College, May 21, 2005
I had a dream that we went walking,
David Foster Wallace and I
In great detail we were talking
The Pale King smiled as he kissed the sky
One of my last rides on the ferry.
I'm sitting where they used to keep cars–pre-9/11–it's finally sunny again, and the mist coming off the ocean is briny, and wonderful. It’s pulverized into the air by the prow of the ship. The mist glitters in the light, looking like the tiny blips I’d get in my vision from time to time, whenever I got dizzy.
There’s a bald, tattooed man a few feet away, reading a scene from a novel, subtly palming tears away, in-between holding down pages against the grasping wind. Someone else paced along the deck, face troubled, but too far to tell why.
When the ferry docks that last time, I grip a nearby handrail, and am glad to find that the captain does it the traditional way–like someone using the curb to even-out a park–he sends her nose straight into the slip and pushes off. Millions of tiny splinters fill the air, wafting the delicious smell of hot lumber through the deck.
The sides of the boat grate against the slip, and the resulting sound is a tremendous screeching. The sound of boat against slip is otherworldly in its volume and timbre. Various tourists look around, aghast at the noise, like nails on chalkboard, except ten times as loud.
When the bridge descends, people step onto the mist-slick deck and wait until the worker pulls back the mooring line, then the security gate.
Time to disembark.
Someone said "Smile" and I turned around
He pulled the trigger and I hit the ground
Waking up in another town
This is what I remember
“Yeah, that book you have,” he said, wrapping his lips around a Camel cigarette, “I have it.” It was starting to get cold out, so he burrowed his free hand into the lined pockets of his duck jacket. He was heading back to work soon, and I was heading back inside, to my party. I didn’t think he would come. Like he hadn’t come to the lunch.
After tonight that would, more or less, be the end to whatever this subtle, loaded friendship was.
“You mean the Existentialists one?” I asked, surprised, walking back into the circle of lamplight.
“Yeah,” he nodded, “I’ve had that book. I stole it from the library.”
Drunk, I couldn’t hold back my groan in time. “Oh man. I’ve known guys like you in college.” The words started toppling out, way before I even felt nauseous.
“No. You haven’t,” he said, eyes narrowing. The two of us were not enjoying ourselves half as much, suddenly.
“Yes, I have,” I said, feeling a sudden, unnecessary meanness surge up in me, “Known boys like you. Edgy, stealing philosophy books from the library for the hell of it.”
It was so old hat, and yet, what the hell did I know about anybody?
The person in front of me, or the person who had said he’d loved me for three years? What made any of us different? Was I brusque, or was all of his interest coming from a perverse, distended curiosity: the ex of an ex?
I gnawed on the inside of my lip and tried to find a way to apologize for comparing him to a latte-swilling college kid. Our friend poked his head around the corner and grinned when he saw us smoking.
“Hey, can I join you guys?”
We exchanged a momentary look and nodded, if not somewhat awkwardly. Some planets don't align--not now, not ever. Maybe it was better this way, so I really could overcome the escape velocity of home.
Maybe it was time I stopped looking for a chess partner, in favor of enjoying the art of solitaire.
Waiting for the storm to pass
Standing around picking holes in the grass
Waking up in another town
This is what I remember
4 A.M. and I come back to consciousness in the dark. Orange bands of sodium street lamps come dimly through the slatted window. I know it’s four because the little green clock on the microwave tells me so. I’m disoriented in more ways than one, with jet lag being one of the less offensive reasons.
I sit up on the couch and rub my face, hard. My legs were cold and I mused about the whereabouts of my pants.
I’d been disoriented for a week and a half. I felt like a visiting alien. From the flora and fauna–Southern California still had hummingbirds and plantain trees into November–to the linguistics–people actually did say “Namaste” quite regularly here–to the fact that people made regular eye contact, followed by conversation. In the evenings, we enjoyed explosively beautiful sunsets and watching the mountains grow a deep, earthy purple. Then, we wrapped up in chunky sweaters and sat outside with wine, listening to the bats sing. It wasn’t unpleasant fieldwork in the slightest.