June 26. I like riding backwards on a train. Seeing where I’ve been. Watching it disappear in the distance. No idea what’s coming up next. It’s just like my life. Which is either a scary thing to say at my age, or an exhilarating one. And as several of my friends would chime in: “It’s both, stupid!” Actually only one or two of them would add the “stupid.” But they would be the ones I’d listen to.
Nephew Dennis’ graduation party: the first thing I do when I walk in the door? I go into the bathroom and shave off my beard. If I'm going to be in the sun for a week, there's no way I'm coming out of this looking like Hemingway.
Speaking of which, my Hemingway-resembling father has lost so much weight since Christmas that his skin got caught completely by surprise and has nowhere to go except hang off his bones like wet shirts on a clothesline. This is like a giant Perspective Alert for me. Because me, I’m freaking out cuz, the way I'm losing my hair right now, this time next year my head will be smoother than a billiard ball. But Dad? Dad looks OLD. A little voice inside me says, “This is what living with someone who’s falling apart, and taking it all personally, does to you, Matthew. So never live with someone who’s falling apart; and if you do? Don’t make it all about you. And for Chrissakes don’t ever do a comb-over, okay?”
The party’s fun, but I make the mistake of drinking two Michelob Ultras instead of real beer like Sam Adams. As a result, I lie down at 8PM and sleep through the rest of the night, missing the loud conversation and laughter, missing the sunset, missing the Smores, and missing the ritual inhaling of the illegal substances at 3 AM. On the plus side, I wake up the next morning at 7 and get to clean up the heavies that are littering the back yard.
June 27. Spend the day on the beach. Finish Coward On The Beach; start Coward At The Bridge, and finish it after everyone leaves around 5ish. Watch L’Avventura.
Opening lines for a story about regret: “Years from now, when he looks back on this moment, he will remember not what he did, but what he didn’t do. It will identify him like a birthmark. It will consume him like a cancer. It will become, for him, the one true measure of who he is, and who he can never be.”
Dialogue for the final scene of The King of Snow:
EARL OF ESSEX: Odd, is it not? If I were to die tomorrow from the plague, or a knife in the back, I would not lose a wink of sleep the night before. Yet because I die tomorrow under the axe, I will spend tonight awake in worry and expectation. Knowledge, Master Shaxpere. There is no greater burden. Because I cannot be surprised by death, all I can do is try to meet it as if it were an accident, as if it were by chance and not design. But it is all design, is it not, Master Poet? [Holding up a skull:] To this one end must we all come, each by his different road. But oh, the shame to have this skull of mine stuck up on London Bridge.
SHAXPERE: You will not feel the shame, My Lord.
EARL OF ESSEX: My wife will.
SHAXPERE: And so that shames you to think on’t? I say again, my Lord –- you will not feel any shame.
EARL OF ESSEX: Not even when I look down from Heaven on her weeping face?
SHAXPERE: Not even if you were to look up from Hell. Shame is what the living feel when they wish they could have walked a better path, or said a kinder word. The dead can say nothing; how can they feel shame?
EARL OF ESSEX: Because they wish. They wish they were alive. They wish with all their cold, unbeating hearts for one more breath. One more. Only one more.
SHAXPERE: There is no shame in that.
EARL OF ESSEX: No; none at all. No shame at all in wishing. Even God can wish.
SHAXPERE: And what does God wish?
EARL OF ESSEX: That men were more worthy of His forgiveness.
June 28. Wake up at 3 AM because of the total absence of noise outside, and can’t get back to sleep for an hour. Make a mental note next trip to bring pre-recorded sounds of traffic and loud drunken yelling from the bar across the street from my apartment, so I can get a full night’s sleep while I’m here in Total Fucking Silence Town. At 5:30 AM, as the sun is rising, all the birds in the back yard start gossiping with each other, so I’m awake again. Make a mental note to add barking dogs to my noise list.
Get up at 7:45. On the beach at 9. It feels like a sauna: no air movement, hot and muggy, I’m sweating just trying to remember phone numbers. High tide’s at 1. I stay till 11:30. Go home, have lunch, come back at 2, stay till 4. By that time, I have read Space Captain Smith by Toby Frost in its entirety. Water is C-O-L-D, the kind of cold that only feels terrific after you’re out of it, like a bad marriage.
NURSE: Doctor, we’re out of anesthetic!
DOCTOR: Quick! Dip the patient into the water at Ocean Bluff! He won’t feel a thing for days!
June 28, 9AM: I hate it when prehistoric creatures wash up on the beach:
Last night’s dream: I am the only waiter on the floor, and all the old Cedar waitresses are my customers. And they are such problem customers, it’s all I can do not to scream. Maddy keeps changing her mind between the two regular dishes she always gets, even though she doesn’t really like either of them. Glynnis keeps returning everything she orders after taking a bite or two out of it and saying, “No, not good enough,” or, “No, not what I really wanted.” Mauri is all over the place –- she brings in menus from different restaurants and asks me if we have this dish or that special, and every time I get back from checking with the kitchen, she’s wearing a completely different outfit and saying, “No, that’s what I wanted five minutes ago, let me tell you what I want now.” And Sarah? Sarah is sitting with a guy at a table for two. She orders for both of them, and the second she sees the guy she’s with enjoying himself or wanting more, she asks for the check. That should tip me off right there, but it doesn’t -– no, it isn’t until Allyson sails in and orders the Thursday night special that I realize (a) I am dreaming and (b) this is not about serving them food. This is not about food at all. It’s about their boyfriends.
Movies watched: My Darling Clementine and Frontier Marshal.
June 28, 8PM: Sometimes, God hands JMW Turner a brush and says, "Go paint me a sunset."
June 29. Up at 7:10, on the beach at 8:45. Temperature still in the 90’s, air still as thick as molasses, water still just short of Antarctic. Read God Emperor of Didcot by Toby Frost; start the third book in the series, Wrath of the Lemming Men. Because his style is half Monty Python, half Douglas Adams, it’s no wonder that today is Snappy Patter Day. There’s nothing quite as inspirational than someone else’s clever lines. Or as intimidating, which is why I spend the day trying to top them with things like this:
GIRL: So how’s your social life?
GUY: Touch and go. I touch; they go.
You couldn’t find poetry in Shakespeare.
You telling the truth is like a jackal going vegetarian.
I need you like the bullet needs the wound.
As out of place as an investment banker in a humility contest.
As rare as an Australian at an AA meeting.
HE: There are days when I just want to stick my head in the oven and turn on the gas.
SHE: Don’t worry – it’s just the female poet in you.
What we have here is a fool’s errand. So it looks like it’s up to me.
A German defines “peace” as being wounded by anything less than a .45 calibre bullet.
FIRST HOOKER: You mean the entire army was here and you never slept with one of them?
SECOND HOOKER: Not a one.
FIRST HOOKER: [sadly]: All those officers.
SECOND HOOKER: [wistfully] All those privates.
Last night’s dream: I decide to go to the beach this morning without putting my teeth in. I say to myself, “Screw it, I’ll give my poor gums a rest, I’ll eat pudding all day, who cares if I look like Walter Brennan? It’s not like the girl of my dreams is gonna walk up the beach and sit down next to me.” Five minutes after I get there, the girl of my dreams walks up the beach and sits down next to me. She looks vaguely like Paulette Goddard circa 1935, which is surprising, because the girl of my dreams is usually the Louise Brooks type. So we start talking, and I try not to smile, because I have no teeth. And I’m doing fine until she says, “Y’know, you’re perfect, except for one thing.” What’s that?” I say, and wave the waiter over to refill my glass of wine, because somehow in mid-conversation we have gotten from the beach to a very posh restaurant. “It’s your smile,” she says. “I always judge a man by his smile. Smile for me.” “Can’t do it,” I say. “Why not?” she asks. “Because it’s Buster Keaton’s birthday,” I lie. “Once a year, in honor of Buster Keaton, I do not crack a smile.” “Ah, Keaton,” she says. “I’m a Chaplin girl myself.” And that explains the Paulette Goddard resemblance, I think. “Not even one smile?” she coos. I shake my head. “Not once.” “Not even for me?” I shake my head. “It’s the principle of the thing,” I say, and when she says, “Please?” I think to myself, “I can’t give you what I don’t have.” Immediately I pull out a pen and write that thought down on a napkin. Words to live by. When I look up, Paulette is gone, and the bill is there waiting to be paid. I look at it and go, “I ate a New York strip steak? Without teeth?!? You have got to be dreaming.” And I wake up.
Movies: L’Eclisse and Last Of The Mohicans. Make notes about L’Eclisse: everyone raves about the last eight minutes, but to me, the opening scene is just as brilliant. There must be thirty different camera set-ups in that five-minute sequence. It’s a brilliant representation of being off-balance and insecure. Make notes about Mohicans: possibly the only Michael Mann movie with a believable female character in it, which may owe more to Madeleine Stowe than to him. God knows that if Gong Li and Marion Cotillard had to measure their reputations on the work they did for Mann, they would never get work again. Also: one of the few Michael Mann movies which is not a remake of Heat.
By the way: the reason I’m watching so many movies? There is no cable here, just local TV access. If you think cable is brainless, try watching local for more than an hour. About the only remotely watchable thing down here is something called RTV (the R is for Rewind or Retro, I can’t remember) which plays old shows from the 80’s, and the only reason to like that station is that they broadcast Rockford Files every night at 10.
[to be continued]