I woke up this morning, and said to myself, ‘Come hell or high water, I’m gonna write a story today.’ So I did. I like to give myself pep talks. I don’t care if it makes me look like a madman, I can and do talk to myself. So what?
Anyway, this is what I came up with today. It’s titled “Cause and Effect, or The Nose Knows”.
Laurence Dorval had an exceptional sense of smell; he could introduce himself to anyone, and instantaneously know all about them – favorite foods, colors, movies and the like, but also what kind of approach would be most likely to afford total access to the inner reaches of their psyches, men and women alike. He always said that his ability to communicate with the reptilian center of his brain gave him such an affinity, and once people saw what he could do no one doubted it. It was this innate gift that allowed him to live the life of a jet-setting yuppie; he’d grifted cougars and trust fund babies and politicians and the nouveau riche; he’d been the bloodhound for many a despondent family or stymied private investigator. He’d given them exactly what they wanted – sometimes it was sexual, sometimes it was dangerous, sometimes it was dull, but he knew what they wanted from him, and they gave, gave, gave in return.
Laurence stepped into a tiny dive of a diner, sat down and removed his sunglasses. Surely, the last person to walk into this place wearing Hugo Boss, Armani and a flawless pair of Bruno Maglis had burned them upon leaving, this place was so run down. But the aromas caught his attention so he stopped.
The Living End. This was the place.
An old man approached him with a ratty menu, and placed it on the table in front of Laurence. “Hiya,” he said, making Laurence wince at the familiarity. “Never get anyone as sharp as you in here. Would’ya like a drink, mister?” His white eyebrows quivered in place, bushily anticipating Laurence’s response.
“A screwdriver,” he said, never touching the menu. The old man gave a slight bow and went off to make the drink. Laurence looked around the dimly lit diner, at the paint peeling from the ceiling and walls, at the ancient bar where the old man had gone to make his drink. The bottles were coated in a film of dust at least an eighth of an inch thick, and the bar itself was in dire need of a good waxing. The half dozen or so tables were just as in need of attention.
The old man returned with the drink, another glass, the bottle of vodka and the decanter full of orange juice, and sat down across from him. Laurence took a sip and was surprised at how well made it was. He admired the glass – it’s charming thickness, reminiscent of bygone days when this place was a fixture in the neighborhood, a neighborhood which was now as run down as the bar itself.
“You’re a lucky fellow,” the old man said. “This just happens to be the last day I’m in business. Guess I’m finally too old to be coming into work every day, even if it is the only thing I have to do nowadays.” He made one for himself, and Laurence did the same. The old man took a healthy sip, and let out a long, satisfied sigh. “Even I’m surprised at how well this vodka’s held up,” he said. He took a moment to study Laurence’s face. “So. What brings you in? You see the flyers around?”
“No,” Laurence said. “My nose told me to come in, so I had to come in.”
This caught the old man by surprise. “Well, I haven’t made anything yet today, so maybe it’s one of the other places nearby you smelled. Either way, I’m glad—“
“That’s not what I mean.” Laurence took a long glance around the place, then opened the menu for the first time. “I think I’ll have a club sandwich, if it isn’t too much trouble.”
“Of course,” the old man said, getting up from the table and taking the menu with him. “Ten minutes, tops.”
After he had disappeared in the kitchen, Laurence took a deep breath and held it for a few beats before releasing it. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
After a time, the old man returned with the sandwich. “Here ya go,” he said. “Anything else I can get for ya?”
“No, this’ll do for now,” Laurence told him. The old man smiled and returned to his post behind the bar. Laurence lifted the plate to his face and gave the sandwich a long thoughtful sniff. The old man watched this curious act, and asked if something was wrong with the food.
“No,” Laurence told him. “But there’s something I’d like to do for you, Mr. Kellerman.”
“How’d you know my name, son?” the old man asked as he walked over to the table again.
“You’d be surprised what I know about you, sir,” Laurence said, “and also that I am in an excellent position to help you. Please, have a seat.”
Mr. Kellerman sat down.
“I know your full name is Oscar Leonard Kellerman. I know that you were born on the seventeenth of June, nineteen thirty-two, in Absecon, New Jersey, the fourth child to Irish immigrant parents. You are left-handed and flat-footed, and were surprised when the Army took you to fight in Korea in fifty-one. It was there you met your wife, Edith Doltire, the one who nursed you after you took some shrapnel in your right leg at Unsan.
“I know that you and Edith were never able to conceive. I know that you bounced around from place to place after the war, working as a welder, a mechanic, a garbageman, before finally finding steady work as a short-order cook, working for twenty years before you had saved up enough money to open this place here. I know it lasted for six years, six shaky years wherein you’ve had to watch your wife grow frailer and weaker, and declare Chapter Eleven bankruptcy twice. Twice.
“I know that you’re closing your restaurant because your wife is dying of bone cancer. I know that you have no money, and I know that you’re now nursing her as she once did for you. What would you say if I told you I could help make sure that her and your final days were ones of comfort, and peace?”
Beads of sweat and a look of confusion crept down Mr. Kellerman’s face, but he remained silent.
“I have a unique gift, sir, and I try to use that gift in the best way possible. I’ll admit I haven’t been the greatest person, but I do believe that karma is a very powerful thing. We all should do what we can to attract the best of it as possible, but alas, too few of us actually do.” Laurence reached into his jacket pocket and produced an aquamarine envelope. “Here I have two one-way plane tickets, a charter to Nice for Oscar and Edith Kellerman, and two passports in your names, as well as a check for twenty-five thousand dollars. I’d like you to have these.”
Oscar’s hands trembled as he opened the envelope and verified its contents. “But… but why? Why us?”
“I know this seems strange, but cause and effect are very powerful things, sir. Besides, why shouldn’t you take these? You want to, I’m sure. So take them.” Laurence stood to leave.
“Wait,” Mr. Kellerman said. “Tell me, how’d you know all this?”
“Surely you know it’s rude to ask the giver why he gave you a gift, sir,” Laurence said. “Suffice it to say, however, the nose knows.” He thanked the old man for the untouched sandwich and the drinks, and left.
Oscar Kellerman watched the door for a long moment after Laurence had left, then looked at the table, the club sandwich, the orange juice and the vodka, the two glasses, the blue envelope. He made another screwdriver then walked over to the telephone and dialed, hands still shaking. He took a deep breath to steady himself. “Edith?” he said into the receiver. “Yeah, yeah. I’m okay. You’ll never guess what happened. This kid came into the diner today…”
Today, the writing bug nibbled at my fingers a little bit, and I came up with a couple interesting things, just to get the juices flowing again.
If we’re going to be really honest here, I’ve been drinking with a few friends and one asked me to write a sonnet, which I did (these things always seem to come about after I’ve been imbibing alcohol). In any case, it’s a great way to stretch the writing muscles a bit, and believe me they needed a good flexing.
The first one is a sonnet, titled “A Shipwreck”, and the second is a little… Beck-inspired, perhaps – mostly strings of nouns and verbs connected only by the prepositions and adverbs between them – a curious bit of free-writing titled “Fruitless”. Both are in free verse, although the sonnet adheres to the typical ten-syllable-per-line standard.
I’ve been burned by the fiery depths one
Too many times, and I really should have
Learned by now that, no matter how much fun
I thought we were, we’d never be that one.
When I came, it was great. When I left, well –
That’s a whole ‘nother bag of bones right there.
You were why I drew every breath, and shed
Every tear. And now I hate you for it.
It might be childish and it might be cruel,
But I don’t care. You didn’t give a shit
So why should I? Fuck your feelings, fuck your
Tears. You’re a killer, and I won’t be next.
Be a siren, but I’ll be damned if I
End up as your last and greatest shipwreck.
The intransmutable consequence of those fifty-five
Questions has to be the end of being and ague;
Central to this theory is the final glut –
In particular, its den of thieves.
It is there, ‘twixt human will and absolute discord,
Where the sun has determined it will never come to roost –
But perhaps the asteroid might.
(She has yet to decide.)
Neutrinos and chocolate have finally reconvened,
And out of this union various vitreous filaments
Of the as-is will arise.
In search of their God, they enlist the services
Of The Tapir, and all set off.
After thirty-seven moons and innumerable seeds
They’ve returned to where they began.
And in the nest, raw fields of wheat
Lie scorched in the frigid stone.
No redeeming qualities remain.
Nothing good is living.
And they wept like children.
When I began this blog, it was with the knowledge that I would use this time in Japan to its fullest potential, that I would find things about myself that I had never known before. This is why it has its peculiar-sounding name (not so much if you’ve read my first post). I call these discoveries wubs, and for good reason (again, read my first post). Wubs are those things, big and small, that lead us to make important inferences about ourselves and others. They provide clarity – tiny insights into how and why the world works, and they run the gamut from why we happen to straddle this blue-green marble in the first place to what we should have for lunch tomorrow. And though it may not seem like much it’s those tiny discoveries that make breathing worthwhile – at least to me. Of course, not everyone takes the time to wax philosophical on the meaning of mankind’s existence here but, if that’s what makes living worth living, then by all means ponder away, little philosopher.
Perhaps the best (and to some perhaps the most uncomfortable) thing about a wub is that it strikes without warning; the inspiration for some major life-changing event could come while watching a baseball game just as easily as it could while you’re shitting yourself senseless on the john. Something happens in your brain, and something just… clicks, slides into place, and then you know exactly what it is you should do and how to get it done. That is perhaps the best feeling in life, better than a thousand of the best orgasms you could ever have (… yes, I do mean this), better than the filet mignon you had at the Tavern on the Green that one time before it closed. It feels like supreme satisfaction, as if everything you had been through, good and bad, led you to this one moment of insight, of sure-footedness to the n-th degree – you know exactly where you’re going and how you’re gonna get there. But what’s most intimidating is the thought of afterward, of what comes next after we reach that singularity of insight and sure-footedness, and we think to ourselves What’s next?
Well, shouldn’t that be the impetus for the next wub you find?
A couple days ago I came across my most recent wub while I was sick with a cold, and it was a big one (the wub, not the cold). What was it, you ask?
I can’t leave Japan empty-handed. And I don’t mean loaded down with souvenirs, either.
I realized that if I didn’t leave this place prepared for life afterward there would have been no point in coming here at all. The entire time I’ve been here it’s been under the guise of a big vacation, when it is nothing of the sort at all. Sure, there’re classes and all, but that’s not the only reason I’m here. It’s an entire year to plan out my next step and I should never have forgotten that. Just think – a year to polish my resume, maybe send out a few feelers for scholarship opportunities and internships in the States, time to write a few short stories and smooth out the rough edges in the ones I have… So much time to prepare, and so much to do.
When I return to Clemson I’ll have only a semester of study left most likely, and afterward there lies a huge blank space. Space that needs to be filled with some sort of plan. Now. What will I fill it with? At present I’m not sure. I’m tossing around a few options in my head at the moment, from graduate school to coming back here to teach English to uprooting myself from home and branching out somewhere else once I get stateside. I peruse Facebook quite often (as most of us do), and when I see so many of my friends that have established themselves so far away from where they began it makes me want to do the same. What matters to me most is doing something stable, something that I’d be willing to suffer for, something that would establish my being here. Success isn’t only measured in fame or power or riches, and that’s not the type of success that interests me anyway.
As I write, something that my creative writing professor at Clemson told me has come to mind. She told me about how she started fresh out of college, moving to New York without much in order to accept an unpaid internship with a publishing company, about how she maxed out a few credit cards to make her vision a solid reality. Could I do the same? Uproot my life from most of what I’ve known to do what I want to do somewhere else?
Damn straight I can. I’ll have to. You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, as the maxim tells us.
I can’t leave Japan empty-handed. This is what I’m supposed to take away from this experience. This isn’t a trip. It’s not a pleasure cruise.
So much of college is an attempt at suspending adulthood, and studying abroad is a major extension of that. A year without thinking about GPAs and paper deadlines, substituting them with excessive drinking and wasteful spending on stuff you don’t really need, and are just now reasoning out how to bring back home with you. Sure, if you apply yourself long enough you’ll end up with some sort of degree applicable in some career path, but any degree is worthless if you don’t know how you’re gonna market yourself with it.
Such common sense. And I’m just seeing it for the first time, really understanding it. But better late than never, right?
Ponder away, little philosopher. Ponder away.
As it stands, there’s six months left here, and six months after that before I graduate, one year wherein I have to come up with some sort of plan to fill that blank after. For the longest time I’ve resisted looking ahead further than six months, but that’s no longer going to work, and no longer is it acceptable. The way I see it this year’s gonna make me, or it’s gonna break me. Shortlisted – a sharper resume (made sharper just by being here); a few rough short stories during this break from classes; some research into internships, and graduate schools; opportunities that lead back to Japan; better ways to budget my money and my time, both of which are as precious to me as the air I breathe.
Whaddyaknow, my first real New Year’s resolution.
But before all that, I should clean my filthy room. Really, it’s a disgrace – you’d be ashamed of me to see it. And I’m not showing it to you, either.