I didn't get beautified yesterday. My beautician moved me to Friday. It was o.k. with me. I told her, "It doesn't matter--I'll be beautiful either way." I think that is how I felt at the time. So I went to the gym, did a workout, came home and showered, then went to lunch on the Boulevard for sushi. The day was pretty enough that I could sit at a sidewalk table in the sun comfortably. These are glorious days here. They are so beautiful, everyone says so with the afterword that it won't last long and that they are dreading the heat and humidity that is coming. I try not to. It won't help.
So I ate a "dragonfly roll" that had not-so-great tuna inside. I hardly ever go to this place anymore because it has become so hit and miss. I had a nice young boy waiter who was from China, though, and who was very interested in chatting. He was terribly polite, formal, and spoke a fairly good Chinese English. He wanted to know what I was going to do with the rest of my day. I told him that I was going to a retirement party, so he wanted to tell me about how such things occurred in China. The old people gather, he said, and play Mahjong and danced. It sounded dreadful, I said, and I told him I would not enjoy such a thing. He laughed a small Chinese laugh. Not a big, American guffaw, but a well restrained near-giggle. He asked me what I would like to do, and I said just about anything other than that. I certainly wouldn't want to be in a group of old people.
"You like to be around young people?" he asked.
Well, there was a loaded question. What could I tell a stranger, a young man from another country not yet schooled in the ways of the west?
"I don't like age groups," I told him. "I know people who spend their lives within an age group, people who identify that way. I find it deforming and grotesque. They seem spiritually crippled somehow."
I thought that would certainly end our conversation, but it enlivened him somehow. His eyes went into that thinking space somewhere off in the distance, and then he said, "Yes, I like to talk to all people about their lives. I find it very interesting."
I told him I had been to China in the early part of the century and was supposed to go back to teach at a university there, but Covid hit and all that was cancelled. We talked about how much China had changed and how quickly it still does. He came here in 2019, he said, and when people send him pictures from home, he barely recognizes it.
He was dogged in his questioning. Great kid, but you know, I felt a little like I was on a trip to another country where you talk to people wearing that permasmile of the face and the spirit. It was mid-afternoon, but thankfully, eventually, he needed to return to work.
When I got back to the house, I needed to prepare for the factory party. And I got depressed. I didn't want to go. I decided to do what I do after sushi and pour a whiskey to "kill the worms," and I sat down to think. I closed my eyes and went into one of those trances midway between consciousness and unconsciousness, dreaming and thinking. When I opened my eyes, I should have been leaving the house. I hadn't even picked out my clothes.
I went to the closet. There hung the factory clothing--all the things I wore so long ago. I had a new polo shirt I bought recently. I didn't ask my fashion friend if it was cool. She would just beat me up about it. I put it on and grabbed a pair of jeans. I slipped on some crocodile leather moccasins. It all felt wrong. I looked in the mirror. Jesus Christ. I thought then that I just wouldn't go. I was sweating. I was fat. How did I get so fat? Nobody looks good when they are fat. I changed shirts. I slipped on a thin linen thing. I looked like I should be standing in front of a drug store holding a handful of cigars.
Fuck it! What could I do? It was almost time for the thing to start and I was thirty minutes away.
My ex-secretary texted wanting to know where I was. Tennessee called. Then I was in the factory parking lot. I saw people getting out of their cars, people I hadn't seen in over three years, people I knew. Without beautification, wearing alien things, I limped across the parking lot and into the building.
Immediately, I was swarmed. The smiles. The same question over and over again. The same stilted answer. One conversation would start up and then be interrupted by someone else. I couldn't talk to everyone at once. I felt rude. My head was spinning. People kept asking me questions with smiles of expectation. I tried not to disappoint. It went on. I looked around to see the people who were not there, the ones who had not come. I could easily have been one of those. Surely I would not have been missed. Indeed, I was kicking myself for coming. I felt stupid in my factory garb, the dull uniform of the working class.
Finally, we were called upstairs for the presentation. As the crowd mingled, I saw most of my friends heading for the exits. They felt they'd done their piece. They'd had enough. But I couldn't. It would have been wrong.
The speeches were long, dumb, and dull. Of course. The CEO spoke in a hundred tired cliches.
"ChatGPT" I said to my replacement who was standing nearby. The pompous speech of a politician, the same imperious look, a fascist speaking to the proles.
And then it was over. The thing was done. I limped back to my car, turned the key, and left the factory behind.
I'd had four job offers. About that I am not kidding. The most intriguing was an offer to teach photography courses.
"Whenever you want. I'll work around you."
Teaching photography is an easy gig, but it is not what you think. The kids are often unimaginative and dull. It can break your heart. And, I thought, I'd feel a pretender, a fake. When was the last time I'd made a real photo? Oh, I have plenty of old stuff. I could build a decent website, even a G-rated one. Well. . . maybe. I thought about the current ideologies that dominated academia. I've always been a transgressive. Could I still get away with it? How many complaints would I have to deal with for the images I would show the class, things that would set off the alarms? Would it be worth it? Would I even still have the chops? And, of course, the money would be piss poor. On the other hand, though, it would force me into some sort of productivity.
Questions I would have to answer--but not just then. I was tired. I was hungry. I had watched the poor schlubs at the buffet table loading plates with dangerous food. But it was free, you know, a bene. Fuck. . . I couldn't join that crowd. It reminded me of caged monkeys looking anxiously at you hoping you'll throw a peanut. I shouldn't even eat, I thought. For about a month. My limp was also a waddle. Fuck me. I'll get some meth. I'll lose weight.
I stopped at Whole Foods and got some chicken tortilla soup. I had things to make a salad. That would be it, soup and salad. Oh, you know. . . a glass of wine. . . an after dinner drink. . . .
I sat on the deck as usual. But I didn't feel usual. I felt abnormal. No, I felt "normal." It was a terrible feeling. Day 2 of the Revenge Tour sucked. It was me, not them. I'd felt like a replica. Wind me up. Turn me on. They need me to be "that thing," but I am diminishing. Going. . . going. . . . I've morphed and reinvented in the Covid years. I can't tap dance anymore. Fuck me. Was I depressed or was it a burning outrage? Neighbors passed. They smiled and waved. I did the same, automatic redundancy.
I am supposed to do the same today. Day 3. Maybe I was correct yesterday. Maybe I have caught a disease. Maybe I've been infected. I'm tired of performing. I'm tired of the gymroids. I want to wear a muumuu and sit on the beach with a drink. I want to be able to walk without a limp, to go miles and miles again, just to see. Most days of our lives, we get up and pretend. We pretend we feel good. We pretend we like someone and/or that the they like us. We pretend things will remain and that we will never die. But the dog dies, the car breaks down, the neighborhood changes, the girl leaves, the money runs out. . . .
I should probably teach that photo course. Maybe I should teach more than one. I could use the money to get another studio, perhaps. I have ideas. They are not like the old ideas. I have things I would like to try. I might walk over and talk about it when I am at the factory today. And then. . . cocktails with the factory kids at a nearby bar. It is a farewell to my friend. She is not retiring. She is quitting. She came into some money. She is leaving town to take up residency in her family's 200 year old family home. A big stone place in mid-America. Hooterville. She is tired of factory life. All the other kids are jealous. Nobody likes the factory any longer. I think I am not the only disaffected one.
I had said to the Chinese boy that I wanted to go to Japan. "They are depressed there, I hear. People work too much, are not happy with their lives. They feel isolated and alone"
Yea, kid. It seems to be going around.