Little Children

I was 22 when I met Shannon. We'd both been hired to wait tables at a new restaurant in downtown Charlotte, a semi-fancy place that billed itself as a Euro bistro. For me this marked a significant step up—I'd spent the past year at a high-volume brewpub down the street, where I'd struggled to achieve and then maintain a tentative table-waiting competence. 

My first impression of Shannon was that he knew things I wanted to learn. How to open a bottle of wine while carrying on a conversation and never glancing down at your hands. How to bullshit with the good old boys, and how to explain our menu's foreign dishes to new-money rednecks without coming off as patronizing. How to know when a table wanted you to chat them up and when they wanted you to be attentive but invisible, like the hired help in a British period drama. Within a few weeks of the restaurant's opening, Shannon had regulars, people who would request his section and might even wait at the bar until one of his tables opened up. Some of these people, I assumed, had followed him from his previous gigs. 

I did not have regulars. I wasn't bad at the job—I've always hated to disappoint people, so I tried very hard—but I wasn't exactly graceful. Even at the slower pace of upscale dining, I often found myself two or three steps behind and fumbling to catch up. I was, as Shannon once remarked, "sort of comically inefficient."

When I picture Shannon now, he's at the servers' station, looking bemused, while I try to cash out multiple checks, or decipher my own handwriting, or assemble a complicated hot-tea service in the middle of a lunch rush. "The main thing," he says, leaning against the counter, chewing on a toothpick, "is not to get excited."

While We're Young

The semester ended recently, and so yesterday I did something I hadn’t done in a long time: I went to a movie, alone, in the middle of the afternoon. I want to say “I took myself to the movies,” though I realize that doesn’t make literal sense. Which half of my bifurcated self did the taking? Which half allowed itself to be taken?

Maybe it's just that a weekday matinee always feels like an indulgence. Even more so yesterday, when halfway through the previews I turned in my seat and realized I had the theater to myself.

                                                                        *

It was a difficult semester, for reasons both personal and pedagogical. The kind of difficult in which even minor tasks—especially minor tasks—seem designed to exhaust. You look around at the things your friends have made—books, scholarly articles, home renovations, tenure, babies—and you think: how the fuck did you manage that?

Notes From The Road

                                                                               1.

I was on a two-lane highway in the California desert, somewhere between the Arizona border and Joshua Tree, when I finally broke down and cried.

I say “finally” because some part of me had been waiting to cry for the last 2,600 miles, though I didn’t realize I’d been waiting to cry until I actually started crying, and I couldn’t say—can’t say, even now—exactly what the crying was about.

They were big, dumb tears. I had to pull the car over. It was embarrassing.

                                                                               2.

I’d agreed to drive a friend’s Subaru across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where he’d taken a job writing for a television show.

“You don’t even like television,” I'd said, the night he first told me. “Do you even own a television?”

It’s possible I was jealous. Not that I necessarily wanted to write for television. Not that I necessarily wanted to move to California. But I didn’t not want those things.

I didn’t know what I wanted. My first night on the road, in a Super 8 Motel just outside Knoxville, I drank a Bud tallboy and made a pro/con list for staying with my current job. I made a pro/con list for staying with my current girlfriend. I made a pro/con list for staying in Philadelphia.