Blurred Vision, Seeing Clearly

POSTED BY IN About Me, DC, Portugal, Travels @ July 29, 2008 - 11:00 am

Searching for something else, I found this piece, which I believe was deleted from my blog in the mysterious blog purge of depressed laid-off posts. It republishes today, almost a year later, in a year without things.

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 18, 2007

The unemployed know this – how the days can creep by, you, reading in pajamas, dim lights, a sudden idea and a flurry of keyboarding, until you decide to venture forth into the real world, which turns out to be just a hipster vegan coffeeshop, where bored girlfriends with cuffed jeans and thick black rectangular frames await their barista boyfriends, as if the hordes ordering no’reos were really a threat to their ironic relationships.

Coffee on an empty stomach has blurred my vision – I can’t actually see the letters on my screen, but I’ve practiced these motions enough that I assume I’m still doing it.

It was probably too much, too fast, to go from cloister to caffeine, but I had the strangest sense that I was drowning, or at least turning 11 again, when I’d lay around in lethargy reading all summer, squeezing lemon juice and chocolate syrup into Pepsi, proud of my rudimentary concoctions. Back then, I read a lot of Nancy Drew while my mom listened to Roy Orbison; I’d sit outside on the astro-turf patio in the Arizona heat, legs up on the permadirty Rubbermaid table, ignoring the hysterical barking of Dusty the too-smart border collie, whose irrational hatred of all things moving I attributed to a mistaken belief that we were signaling her until I learned she’d been beaned on the head with a frying pan during a break-in where teenagers had stolen a large peanut butter jar of pennies from the hall and my parent’s lamentable collection of early 90s CDs, which, to my recollection, featured Michael Bolton, Gloria Estefan, and Laura Branigan.

My mother didn’t tell me about Dusty until St. Patrick’s Day a year ago, when we sat atop the roof balcony of Six Feet Under in Atlanta, which I liked because I knew the grave of Margaret Mitchell was just beyond all the Confederate bones. We drank margaritas, and had something fried I remember as being crab cakes – though that must be a mistake, because my mother would never eat crab.

That was the summer I took off for Europe without any books, which was just as well, since I spent over 150 euros mailing back the ones I found; Toqueville, Heller, lesser and newer fiction writers whose stories I remember, even if their names eluded me. That was a summer built for reading – spent on trains and in parks in Germany, France, Scandinavia; buses in Spain and Morocco. But I was too poor, and they were too scarce; and so I scornfully turned pages that were turgid at best; beach books, as if sand dictated inferiority.

I had read all the books in Lagos, Portugal before I would consider the Fountainhead. It was an old copy; the pages loosened from the spine, and each who had read it had signed some sort of message in the back, which at first I took to be a clear sign of intellectual inferiority. (Jawdroppingly, breathtakingly, arrogant.)

But by then it was winter, and the backpackers had stopped coming through with new books for me to read, which I stealthily encouraged them to leave behind by creating a sharing library. The local FX channel only had so many episodes of The O.C. to run anyways, and so I retired to The Cave; a tri-level room I’d recently painted white. Cool tan tiles made the room too chilly at night, so I’d curl under thick Berber blankets with the fat Maltese dog Perla, who, although she was from Boston, did not have an accent. We’d amass plates and cups, Perla and I, as we tore through the book, leaving unhinged sections under the bunk bed with Incredible Hulk sheets as we finished them. Every now and then, the distracting flute of the knife sharpening man would catch our attention; and I’d peer through the gated window over the terra cotta tile rooftops, hoping to catch sight of him, riding his bike through town, looking for customers.

After many days, I was almost finished with the book, stirred with an internal passion for Rourke and his integrity that I could not share with the kindhearted, blinddrunk Canadians. So I stole away to a coffeeshop down the street; where a euro fifty purchased me a milk coffee, and I carefully poured in two sugars through the foam, and stirred without breaking.

I walked down the slippery tiled roads to the Potato Beach – well, that was the translation from Portuguese – where thick tan rocks sat like potatoes, immutable against the crash of the Atlantic.

Summer gone; grey skies, and a recent storm left the beach deserted and debris-strewn. In jeans and felt coat, I sat, with feet buried in the sand, and finished the last of the 800-some pages. I stood up, then, as I did today, to clear my head from the fiction I’d wrapped myself in. I looked out onto the sea, knowing if I kept swimming, eventually, I’d hit home.

I saw further than I can see today; today when the baby pink vegan coffeeshop is a blur to my left and for the most of my right peripheral; and the only thing I can really see clearly is the man in front of me, outdoors, eating a chocolate cupcake in the light breeze, talking to a woman and then offering her a bite with outstretched arms, all without a book in sight, and no sign of fiction anywhere.