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The Fighting Is Over
427 · 3 April 03
I wake up. It's tomorrow, and it's my birthday. Sunlight is pouring through the gaps where my blinds don't quite touch the window frames. It's finally warm enough that the heat is off again, and the windows are open a little. It's still early, the city is quiet. There are birds. Belle is here in my arms. She smiles as she wakes. We'll get up eventually, but not soon. We've been asleep for hours; a thousand things to talk about have washed up around us, and seeped into our dreams. Leave us for a little while.
I make breakfast. My first attempt at recreating proper Belgian waffles was only partially successful, but since then I've found the right sugar, and I'm certain that's what I was missing. Proper Belgian waffles aren't properly breakfast food, but all I've been eating for breakfast lately is Clif bars, and for my birthday none of the flavors are quite celebratory enough. With breakfast we need something European and invigorating to listen to. Roxette, I think. Don't Bore Us -- Get to the Chorus! Obscurity can wait for any other day. This morning we are just happy. After we eat we linger at the table a while longer, annotating the real-estate section and filling a calendar with lines and question marks. This needs something contemplative, probably. And ambitious. Amazing Things? Is that too much? Oh, excess is underrated. Today there will be no half-measures.
I check the net briefly, before we go out. Documentum is trading at 45, the fighting is over, I'm getting a MacArthur, Mom's been commissioned to make jackets for the Danish royal wedding, my sister has met an Irish center-midfielder who eats his vegetables and likes romantic movies, Belle and I have been asked to write a guide to beachcombing honeymoons (or garlic festivals, the email is a little vague), and Garnet Crow want me to come hang out with them in Tokyo while they write songs for the next album. My web site got record traffic yesterday, my referrer logs point back to three dozen insightful comments in random strangers' LiveJournals, and for the first time in over two years "lil kim naked" has dropped all the way to third on the list of search strings by which people found me yesterday. I put the finishing touches on my MFLS team; DJ Countess better have a good year. I click over to the Apple site to see if they built any new cool things overnight, and it turns out I'm the one-billionth visitor, and thus win a free XServe with a RAID array big enough to encode my entire CD collection. And a Coolpix 5700. And an extra PowerBook for Belle. We're going to have to rearrange some gear racks and desks.
No time now, though, because we're due at Empire/Emperor's Garden for dim sum with every friend I have who lives within an hour of Boston. We take over nearly a third of the great room, carts full of pork buns and shrimp dumplings rebounding between our tables like pinballs. Somehow, despite our intrusive numbers, the place is still packed with hyperactive Chinese children, and everybody seems to know everybody else. I get lucky and puzzle out some fragment of Chinese that I recognize from kanji, which pleases the staff so much that they volunteer to send out runners to fetch a clawfoot-tub's worth of eggplant-with-basil from Taiwan Cafe, a bushel of long donuts from Hing Shing, and a few dozen avocado milkshakes from the Juice Bar in the Eatery. We eat until there is no food left in the whole of Chinatown. When the man in the undertaker's coat comes and does his inscrutable math on our bill, it comes to thirty-five dollars, or approximately twelve cents per person.
Re-invigorated by a quick Vietnamese sandwich from around the corner, Belle and I set out for a combination urban photo safari and shopping expedition. In the Public Gardens, a troops of ducks is staging a protest performance of Lysistrata. I tell them that the fighting stopped earlier this morning, and they say they know, but you can't imagine how hard it is to mail-order fifty red Mag-lites when you're a duck with no numeric street address, so now that they've got them, they might as well do the show. I'm trying to remember if Lysistrata has any parts that were written for ducks. It turns out that it does, but confusingly, most of those roles in this performances have been given to Falun Gong members, in a touching show of trans-Common solidarity. We leave them to their surrealism, moral strength, tightly-controlled breathing and vociferous quacking. We take pictures of roller-skaters in the emptied pond, and suburban teenagers trading cell phones on benches along Tremont, and a bald man wearing the cut-out rim of a sombrero telling a knot of tourists that it used to be legal to graze caribou in the underground parking garage. We get rides on police horses, and throw Aerobies with Nigerians, and kiss in the bandstand, and Belle pulls out a clipboard and quizzes people about the relative latitudes of the capitals of foreign countries.
In a shop along one of the edges, we buy Belle some lingerie that doesn't seem to belong to a culture we don't inhabit, and me some jeans that fit. From a sidewalk junk-jewelry table going out of business we get pornographic rings and a pair of mirror-image pendants made of fake geodes. We try on absurd frocks at Louis, and collect pamphlets from the Swedenborgians, and Belle proves her long-standing contention that she can instantly pick out the most expensive item in any vintage clothing store. We get new summer hats at the hat shop, and protector gargoyles at the musty gargoyle store, and make wish lists of antique watches and modern-art grandfather clocks. Newbury Comics has a dozen import singles I didn't know about, and Avenue Victor Hugo is unloading eighteenth-century encyclopedias and folios of old maps. When it turns cold for half an hour, we borrow sweaters from Patagonia and wear them to Trident for chai and hot chocolate. When it warms up again, we take a long walk back up the river and go to the Aquarium. There's a whole tank of potato fish, and there are baby nautili, and we arrive just in time for a private opening of the otter-and-narwhal petting pond and an IMAX movie about Gaudí. I take pictures of Belle feeding nurse sharks, and turtles flying, and dads from Ohio holding up their daughters to see the undersides of passing rays.
By then it's time for the surprise screening of Drowning by Numbers in surround-sound on one of the big screens at the Boston Common cinema, and after that we have just enough time to make it to the afternoon matinée of Blue Man Group. Afterwards we discover that a sushi tournament has taken over the parking lot between Tyler and Harrison, and we eat spicy salmon maki from Suishaya, and toro from Tsunami, and spicy eel from Bluefin, and tuna temaki from Oishii, and hotate from Ginza and binaga from Fugakyu and saba from Hana and avocado maki from Kotobukiya, and an kimo and abalone shipped from Ino in San Francisco. The tournament is declared an honorably irresolvable draw, and we walk home over the Longfellow Bridge as the setting sun gleams across the surface of the Charles.
We get home just in time to pick some music for the party before people start arriving. We want atmosphere, but nothing that's going to screw up word games. I plug the iPod into the stereo and set it to jukebox all the instrumental b-sides from J-Pop singles, which I knew would eventually be good for something. Our friends arrive, and we try to play games but everything devolves into happy silliness long before any margins of victory or defeat can be discerned. After a while we give up and take to the streets in search of more food: carnitas burritos at Boca Grande, heroic carnivorousness at the Midwest Grill, baskets of nan and sheaves of papadum from Akbar and Punjab Dhabi and the Kebab Factory, bowls of carrot-cake and Gina's Mocha Explosion ice cream from Christina's. I set up a tripod and take time-lapse exposures of us in the amber streetlights, and then we commandeer a fleet of taxis and demand to be taken to see strange corrugated railroad culverts in a Medford industrial park. Belle has her latitude data from earlier, and I've brought chalk, and in an empty parking lot we draw the world people think they live in, and talk a sleepy security guard into taking me up to the roof of the nearest building to take pictures of our dream-map from above. We go to Home Depot and see who can come out with the largest weight, volume or quantity of stuff for less than two dollars. We stage a protest march on the not-yet-open southbound lanes of the new bridge that isn't as beautiful as people wish they thought it was, and when the police come and tell us that the fighting stopped earlier this morning, we tell them that we know, but you can't imagine how hard it is to mail-order fifty red Maglites when you're a duck with no numeric street address.
By the time my uncle bails us out of jail, we're all a little bit tired, so we send our friends to their scattered subway stops and walk home through quiet, rain-washed streets. Back at home, we clean up from the party, mostly just a pleasant reunion of things with their places. The iPod shuffles through The Speckless Sky and Idlewild and First Soundscope, and our movements blend into dancing. We get the maps out and spend a little while doing trip-planning (the iPod tries Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, The Big Wheel, Scarlet's Walk). We get out my MSCL DVDs and watch "The Substitute". We lie in my hammock for a while, taking turns making up questions our children might ask us, and then trying to answer them. We go inside and cook dinner together, something improvised and simple, like salmon grilled over plantains, and zucchini seared in toasted sesame oil and white rice with green onions and crushed red pepper. While we clean up, and in the car north afterwards, we sing our own songs, starting to figure out how to render harmony in harmony. The miniature golf place on Route 1 has just started staying open until midnight, and Belle makes fun of me for taking it seriously until two late holes-in-one pull her into a tie, and we take turns inventing progressively more absurdist taunts until we finally collapse in hysterics on the final approach to seventeen, unable to coherently explain to the group behind us how it is that if either one of us says "This sushi is making me like animal crackers!", we both seem to become physically unable to putt. Further up the road, REI is open late now, too, and we buy me crampons we won't get to use until next winter, and more water bottles, and whatever Belle thinks I look cute in and vice versa. And when we get to Gloucester, we walk down to Half Moon Beach and lie on the sand counting stars. And then we go home, and curl up on the half of the bed the cat leaves us, and talk until our hopes are clearer than our words.
I am thirty-six years old. Or I will be tomorrow, as you read this, or the day after tomorrow as I write it, or yesterday as I imagine it. Last year, at this time, I made a list of next steps. How many of them have I done? Yes, I now know the names of the months in Japanese. I have updated dozens of specs, hundreds of times. I bought a television, I played more Scrabble and then less, I watched a lot of movies, I listened to a lot of records and read fewer books than I wish I had. I kept moving forward a day at a time. I haven't made split pea soup, and I still haven't tried making Belgian waffles again, and maybe I never did give 1000 Kisses a fair chance. But the bigger things weren't even on my list. I changed my eating and exercise patterns and have lost forty pounds and counting. I switched operating systems. I refinanced my house and replanned my budgets. The company I work for was acquired. I realized that a simple misunderstanding many years ago had caused me to labor under the mistaken belief that if I don't like Earl Gray, I must just not like tea. I watched every game of the World Cup. And later, recently, I discovered that I've known my dream girl for ten years, after all, and finally got around to falling in love with her. You never know, until you suddenly aren't alone, how much of your old life was about loneliness. I'm not sure what hasn't changed, dramatically or subtly, in mine. My house is different to me now, and my body, and time and money and distance and air. We are learning what we will do together, she and I, and how we will support the things we each do apart. My real thirty-sixth birthday will be less chaotic than this, and my thirty-seventh may bear no resemblance to it at all. I'm interested in things I haven't done before, and not sure what I'm asking from some of the things I always have. A year ago I thought I was ready to make progress towards being right more often, and now I feel like I'm making progress, much longer overdue, towards being right less often, or more precisely, towards letting myself invest more emotional energy in things that cannot be labeled right or wrong. A year ago I thought I was ready for something interesting to happen. Three months ago I thought something interesting might be about to happen. Two months ago I thought something important was starting to happen. A month ago I knew it was well underway, whether we were ready for it or not. Tonight I know that happiness is possible. And tomorrow and the day after and yesterday, we will find out what it does to us.