Yesterday was Bastille Day. But I didn’t do anything French. Well, maybe one thing, but I’ll get to that.
So what did I do yesterday? How Proustian—a fitting allusion for Bastille Day—can I be in my recall? Of course, I haven’t actually read Proust. Or Freud. Or Jung. Or Marx. Or Darwin. And yet I inform my worldview with ideas from all these men. When I try to remember things, I think of Proust. When I get annoyed with my father, I think of Freud. When I think that another human being—a female—will complete me, I think of Jung. When I think of the soul-crushing ennui of most jobs, I think of Marx. When I try to understand why I’m bald, I think of Darwin.
I have an idea of their notions from what I’ve picked up in culture, but I’m sure that I’ve got everything all wrong. I’ve played the intellectual version of the telephone game: I’ve received their theories completely distilled and distorted. No wonder I’m screwed up. My whole philosophical foundation is based on rumor, innuendo, and insinuation, not to mention hearsay.
I do take consolation in the words of one great thinker, Neil Young: “Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away.” So I have no idea what’s going on, my worldview is completely flawed and my life is meaningless, but it doesn’t go away and here’s a slice of it, my Bastille Day 2003:
1) Woke up at 6:30 a.m., after a night of lurid, violent dreams, to write my “Diary” entry for Slate. Finished at 9 a.m. Staggered about the apartment for a few hours.
2) At 1 p.m. went out to buy fruit, thinking that I needed more fruit in my life. Purchased grapefruits, mangos, blueberries, and plums.
3) Stopped at my favorite book store, BookCourt and was stunned anew by the sheer number of books. It looked like there were more books than human beings and I wondered if the publishing industry wasn’t some kind of money-laundering scam.
4) Stopped at my coffee place. The coffee is expensive, but they always have a New York Times lying about, so that evens things out nicely. My whole adult life I’ve been trying to get free newspapers. In the early ‘90s, I used to drive a taxi in Princeton, N.J. Across from the taxi stand was a Burger King that opened at 6 a.m. Around 8 a.m., I’d go in there and make a sweep of the papers: Trenton Times, Trentonian, Newark Star Ledger, and the three NYC papers. All these old-timers would be in there. They gathered every morning to study the horse races before going to OTB. I’d come through, grabbing papers, and this one ancient fellow, the group’s leader, would say to his comrades, “Hold your papers, hold your papers, here he comes.” That senior citizen and I did battle for several years.
5) After coffee, worked for about two hours on this article I’m writing for a men’s magazine. The magazine sent me to Club Med for a week in the Caribbean; a sweet gig, but I’m off booze and in a relationship. I don’t think they knew this when they gave me the assignment. I think they’re expecting a scandalous tale of alcohol and sex. I hope they don’t make me pay them back for the trip.
6) In the late afternoon, my girlfriend and I lay down for a nap. At some point the nap turned rigorous, and I’m not yet 40, but I had an understanding of how men could have heart attacks while exerting themselves romantically. I think I made more of an effort than usual, and the old heart could have easily exploded like a cheap balloon.
7) Went to the gym for 20 minutes to work on preventing heart attacks. An attractive woman lay next to me on the stretching mat and she assumed the missionary position and began thrusting her hips into the air. I considered the wisdom of the Muslim approach to separating the sexes.
8) Had dinner with my girlfriend and my friend David Leslie, who told us of his plans to become a professional boxer. He’s 45 and been having a midlife crisis for some time now. He and I had a boxing match three years ago in front of 600 spectators and he beat me up quite thoroughly. Broke my nose, dislocated my jaw, and gave me a concussion. This was done in the name of performance art. (See www.boxopera3.com.) If I ever get mugged, I’ll be sure to call it art and apply for a grant from the NEA.
9) My girlfriend and I watched Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Young Max Von Sydow’s face was incredible to look at. Luminous and deathly. At the end of the film, the knight dies, and the fool lives. That’s the kind of story I like.