I’ve just been reading David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again“. There’s an essay in there about David Lynch films, and the idea that “evil” itself doesn’t make people uncomfortable, but the idea that the thoughts and feelings of evil people are things we’ve all felt before, the thoughts most of us try to keep hidden, and that what Lynch shows isn’t that there is evil beneath the surface, but that good and evil are intertwined within the same person, the same action, not as opposites but as the same force, only distinguished by the subjectivity of the perceiver.
So that’s the fun, light sort of approach he brought to the book’s title essay, recounting his Caribbean Cruise adventure. It’s strange to read because my own singular cruise experience was at least ten years ago, with my family, and at sixteen I was doing my damnedest to feel the type of despair Wallace talks about feeling at thirty-three. Reading about it sort of brought the feeling back, “a weird yearning for death combined with a crushing sense of my own smallness and futility that presents as a fear of death.” And I remember feeling boxed in as we boarded, and thought maybe I’d have more fun at home with my friends. I didn’t want to like the forced nature of the whole thing, I didn’t want to like the food or the fat pasty people in Hawaiian shirts. I didn’t know what it was that I wanted, but I knew that a floating Disneyland didn’t feel like the real experience.
Then I met someone. Sort of. You share a table on a cruise, and ours was with a really nice family from Michigan. Their kids were only a little older than we were, but (probably mostly benefitting me) on a family vacation, kids are kids. We hung out some, but the boys didn’t quite seem to share my distrust of this commercialist enterprise. Katie did. I found myself walking the decks with her after dinner (the only time I could reliably run into her), and looking for her curls while I walked the decks alone during the day. I felt like I could learn things from Katie. She had a bigger view of the world than I did, than most people that I knew then. It could have been just that Lansing is a diverse metropolis compared to Bridgeport, NE, but she challenged the way I thought. Katie was one of the first people I met who wasn’t a conservative, but wasn’t a cynic. She really seemed to believe in a possibility for a better world, but she didn’t think it came on 50,000 ton ships.
Those nighttime walks, past the doors for the disco and casino and the nighttime buffet, and out the doors of that sad corridor; walking on decks lit darkly, looking at the ocean and the sky and the hoists that hold the lifeboats; walking past older couples on lounge chairs in the night air; past the lonely walking kids we could have been. This was my first real taste of a romantic’s romance, my chance encounter in a grand setting, the two of us detached from the rest of them, if never quite breaking rules, never being exactly where we were supposed to. It was New Year’s Eve, and the very top deck was almost empty, and we stood at the railing, looking down at the party below. Of course we made fun of the whole thing – this one’s clothes, this one’s loud voice, this one’s just too excited – and then, under the glow of the sparkling “2000!” and watching the fireworks on the shore, I went in to kiss her. She turned away.
Not in pity or annoyance, but just matter-of-fact. “I have a boyfriend”, and that was that.
That’s not the story I typically tell when the cruise comes up. I guess I’m still worried about coming off as cool enough, so I tell them how me and Katie’s brother got really drunk on Cozumel…and then nothing really else.
There’s something, as well, about Dad in this. Go back…about how I was determined to feel despair, and dread, and to not like the whole thing. I always worry about how me acting like that (and I still do) effects my Dad. The romance made the cruise, but Dad made it possible. This was just one of countless gestures that he’s made to try and make us kids happy, and I worry about his return on investment for all that. From the DFW article:
“I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time.”
I look at my apartment, my things, and think about going to work in the morning, and stare at blank pages and tell myself “you can go to an open mic tomorrow,” though I won’t, and when I read articles about David Lynch films I tell myself it’s research, same when I watch hours and hours of TV, and I wonder about the branch I’m on. I couldn’t take my family on a cruise. I don’t know if I’ll end up with a family at all.
It’s OK…there’s an open mic tomorrow. I’m gonna be a star.