In the middle of my nine A.M. seminar about ranting in literature (today we debated whether or not Walden could constitute a rant, a well-reasoned argument, or a highbrow-rant), I received a text from The Drunkard. Stealthily, I pulled my mobile phone out of my jeans pocket, thumped it on the bottom of the table in front of me, and read: “Need to talk. Meet at Gulb at eleven.” I shut off the phone and returned my attention to the seminar.
“Narrator,” the seminar leader said, “if you don’t mind, what do you think about Thoreau versus Sinclair. Who, in other words, would win in a cage match?”
The Drunkard and I sat at a bench outside of the Gulbenkian café. We watched people as they walked past—most of the time, people were in groups of four to six, dashing between buildings to get to lectures or seminars, but occasionally, you’d see a lone person, hunched over, a universe unto themselves with massive headphones blocking them off from the rest of the people on the pavement.
We didn’t talk for a while. I sat there, sipping from my rapidly cooling cup of Americano, watching the people and, generally, wondering if they, unlike myself, had had enough money to buy some food for lunch. “Fuck,” said The Drunkard.
I turned and said, “What’s up?”
The Drunkard grunted and took a sip from his beer.
I checked my watch. Barely a quarter past eleven. Now, I understand that England is a country in which drinking at lunch is normal, but I’d never quite gotten into drinking before one. It seemed wrong, like I was about to hurdle over a cliff. “You okay?” I asked
It was a minute or so before he answered, and I assumed he hadn’t heard me. “You know Michael Chabon?”
“I’m Jewish-American with a background in literature. Of course I know Michael Chabon.”
“You read his book of essays? Manhood Something or Other.”
“There’s a bit in there that goes like—and this is paraphrasing: The art of being a man is to flood everyone around you with a great, radiant arc of bullshit. To give the appearance that you’re keeping your head, when, deep inside, the truest part of you is going ‘Holy shit!’”
We lapsed back into silence for a moment or two. “You don’t really give off the feeling of keeping your head.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
I tossed up my hands. “Hey man, you’re the one who took four flasks of absinthe to Oxford.”
The Drunkard answered with another grunt.
“I tell you I’ve been going to lunches with a Chabad rabbi?”
The Drunkard nodded, shivered, took a sip from his beer. “I miss having a community. I’m lonely, man.”
“You’ve got us.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know. But, really, you guys—and you’re great, all of you except for Stalker and Writer—aren’t what I’m looking for.”
“You’ve got Julie, don’t you?”
The Drunkard snorted. “You shitting me? Man, she passes herself around the flat like a communal spoon. Downside of collectivism, I guess. I found that out before Oxford and haven’t spoken to her. She’s confused, of course—doesn’t see anything wrong with what she’s doing—and admittedly, there isn’t, just... Well, I didn’t expect to have any sort of relationship—really—I just…”
“Wanted something exclusive.”
The Drunkard nodded.
A pair of undergrads—both tall, the girl with rosy cheeks and the guy with that infuriating bird-crest hair—walked by hand and hand. The Dunkard slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “Go fuck yourselves!”
The two glanced over and hurried over towards the library.
The Drunkard, pleased, grunted again. “I haven’t had a community in years. Going to fucking Eldritch for my Bachelor’s. What the fuck is wrong with me?”
I took a sip from the frigid drink and let him rant. Sometimes that’s what people need: another person around so they’re not talking to themselves.
“You know how many Jews there were in that school?” he asked. “Five. Counting me. The other four were even more secular than I am. You try getting an über-secular Jew to meet up for Passover? Fucking impossible. Forget dates. Forget em. Three times I went out with this one girl, thinking, each time, that maybe I got her wrong. But no, every time we went out it inevitably led to her ranting about how she had Christ in her heart and yadda yadda.
“Going out with a Jewish girl? Forget that. Went out with one one time. Know what she said when I told her my mom wasn’t Jewish? ‘Well, that makes you a goy.’ Makes me a shagitz. Fuck that. I didn’t spend my entire life getting Bar Mitzvahed, confirmed, teaching Hebrew School—I tell you I did that? I did. First grade. I didn’t spend the first part of my life—before college—to get told by some Jewish-American Princess that I’m not a Jew because my Mom wasn’t brought up in shul.”
“And so I get here, maybe things are gonna be different. Nope. Fucking French collectivists. You want heartache, you think about smelly fucks shtupping the person you think of as your significant other. That, my friend, is the blues.” He drank from his glass of Kroenenberg and sighed.
“I’m not sure about God,” he said. “Don’t know if I ever will be. But, I figure, there’s wisdom in it all. There’s wisdom anywhere you want to look for it, really.” He stopped talking for a moment, watched people walk by. I noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and there was a vein popping out of his forehead. His left hand drummed the wooden table while his right clutched the pint glass.
I thought about a lot in that time where he sat, drumming. None of it was really joined up with a preceding thought, but it was all relevant one way or another. “You know,” I said, “last summer, I was in deep smit for this girl, right? Well, she spent a while abroad, and we’d talk online, yadda yadda,” I wave my hand. “One night, she starts sounding really apprehensive, some stuff comes out that, in all good consciousness, I can’t talk about, and, well, you see where this is going.”
The Drunkard nodded.
“I called up a friend of mine and ranted for a while. Eventually, he says, ‘You’re not listening to R.E.M., are you?’ I say no. ‘Good,’ he says. ‘If you were listening to R.E.M., then you’d be in trouble.’ So, Drunkard, I pass that on to you: don’t listen to R.E.M. and everything will be okay.”
The Drunkard nodded and clapped me on the shoulder. “You’re a mensch.”
“Oh, hey, the American Society is putting on a Thanksgiving dinner. You wanna go? Five pounds to get as much turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes—” my mouth started watering and I had to swallow to get control of myself. “Yeah, there you go.”
“Shit yes, I want to go to Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Cool,” I said. “You can meet Dixie. He’s a barrel of laughs.”
“With a name like Dixie,” he said, “how can he not be?”
Oh, how he’d see. How he’d see.