Scene: At the waning dawn of the new millennium, outside on the patio of the Johnson City Starbucks, watching traffic, the author is finishing up James Baldwin’s Go, Tell it on the Mountain. Purchased at a used bookstore, it’s a mass-market paperback with Baldwin’s picture on the back. He drinks a coffee, then an orange juice. His right sandal is broken and fixed with duct tape. Hastily fixed, from the looks of it.
I know, honey, being a twentysomething woman is difficult. You’ve got to have a great career, and have a fulfilling sex-life, and “Moves and Margaritas” with your girlfriends on Thursday nights, and (it’s still sad to say after all these years, but, yes) get a man. Well, I don’t know if you’ve got to have all these things, but your conversation makes it sound like you think you do. You there, sitting earnestly with your equally pale girlfriend having an ever-so-earnest conversation about “the Lord” and trying to make sense of life. You sputter with “like” and “you know”.
Did hyper-verbal men in the the 1950s had similar conversations? They, too, were once buried under the expectation that they be everything and have, indeed, everything. I bet they never came to any conclusions, either. Does anyone ever come to any conclusion? The existential terrors of expectations are immense. Nothing ever changes, but the vocabulary does.
I wonder and I doubt. This is my work.
I want to tell that pale twentysomething it’s okay to rage against it all, that the best way to deal with unrealistic expectations–especially unspoken expectations–is to ignore them. Or, like the Holy Fools, do things that go directly against those expectations. Just, God damn it, commit to something.
We are a generation of Hamlets. And I’m the worst of them.
I want to make a game of Starbucks Bingo. The free space is simply labeled, “Chacos”. Or, possibly, “MacBook Pro”. You’d get a triple-word score (does that happen in Bingo?) for “Baby-Boomer Woman in Corner, Loudly Doing Business on Her Cell-Phone”. The names are so ridiculous, I swear to God, she’s making it all up. She’s talking to no one. “Duct-Taped Sandals” should be a square, too.
A car drives by, erratically honking at nothing. Until I realize that the driver is honking at us, all of us. I used to do that. In fact, I think it might have been my favorite undergraduate pastime: driving around in a friend’s car, making an ass of myself. I’d honk and shout things. Once, I told a walking couple that they should hurry back to their dorm because the rapture was happening and I “didn’t want them to miss it”. You know, Christian charity and all that. My friend laughed, but they didn’t get it. In the South, people honk and shout lots of things.
Her problem isn’t that other people have expectations of her. No, by no means! That will always happen. Her problem is that she’s taken their expectations and made them her own. Doing that makes it easier for everybody else. Why should they have to murder when you can just slowly commit suicide for the rest of your life? It’s a lot less bloody and, I think, it involves track suits.
I always forget how big the sky is. It’s immense. You can’t see all of it, even if you laid down on the hot pavement in the noonday sun. There would be still parts of the sky you can’t see. Today, there are puffy white clouds that children finger-paint carried into the sky by the wind.
Earlier this week, I saw a woman wave from her red truck at me. She was in the passenger seat. I didn’t know the woman, but she waved at everybody as they passed. She might have been on drugs or happy. I can’t tell the difference.
They probably said the same thing about me in college. I think people on drugs have a better experience of reality than most. But I’m not on drugs. And I’m not always happy.
I watch and I read. This is my work.
Oh, that passage was good. I better highlight it. Then underline it. Hell, I’ll put stars by it, too. Damn, that was good, Baldwin.
A friend stops, saying hello. She’s great. I enjoy talking with her. We exchange news.