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Tuesday, August 4, 1998
By Paul Ford
Total Systems Failure
Five Unfinished Essays (An Astronaut in Brooklyn)
I'm warning you I didn't pull it off today. No conclusions or good ideas. Nothing to talk about, or laugh over. Zero. Flatline. A bad entry.
I began like this: the moon split from the earth in molten era, then hung barren. It managed the tides that moved us from sea to land, where we turned our scales into hair. Its intervals rule the flow of blood and the calendars of Muslim countries. We think of it as female.
When we sent spacemen to the Vallus, their crunchy bootsteps violated five billion years of glimmering distance. Suddenly, we could put the unreachable in our pockets, grab at the sky. The eagle had landed.
Tonight I feel like an astronaut in Brooklyn, because the words are cold and not forthcoming, and I'm wrapped in 50 layers of plastic and glass. I want to tell you all kinds of things, autobiographical nonsense to evoke your own memories, make you feel less alone. Because all of you reading, no matter how many friends you have, or who you live with, or what you do, you all seem pretty alone. I can tell by the astounding number of hang-ups on my answering machine, since I posted my phone number, how bad it is.
Don't feel guilty about the hang-ups. I understand. I'm never home, anyway.
I thought I might compare making love to landing on the moon, get at a wealth of analogy in the technical abstinence of a lunar deflowering. But my God, that idea was silly, and I have to get back to work by 6 AM tomorrow. Besides, I don't have much to share of myself now; I've been giving it over to people in the flesh. Words, for their incredible possibilities, aren't people. Tonight, I went for a visit with an old friend. We've drifted apart, and we're investigating a new friendship. I love him very much. He is currently famous, and I watched a videotape of his recent appearance on Regis and Kathie Lee. Regis Philbin kept touching him. "That made me pretty uncomfortable," he said. "Look, he's touching my face." It did look unusual. It was good to see him. We've missed each other.
At the same time, I'm trying not to tell the story of a girl I met when I was eighteen. If I don't save up, I'm going to run out of women.
Basically, It was my freshman year, and my roommate said, "is it okay if my friend stays for three nights?" She was a high school senior with a serious boyfriend, someone he knew from his life before college. She wanted to look at the university. I knew, like you know hot or cold, that she would bring a host of emotions with her, and they would all involve me. I was absolutely correct.
It's a long time ago, and the details are fading. I used to just know things, pick up distant vibes like a radio receiver, until I was mocked out of it by athiest friends. Now I'm less spiritual and more cynical, and if I found God, I wouldn't trust him. But then, I knew.
She showed up. It didn't take long to forget that boyfriend. We were well matched, we met with a candle in each of our stomachs. Long curves and the taste of sweat. In Herrick Memorial Library, in the second reading room past the VAX room on the second floor (take a left at the top of the stairs), so you know.
You've heard this story, in other forms. It's how I prove I'm real. Christ, if I was a reader I'd call myself and complain, and I'd force myself to leave a message on the machine if I wasn't home. Which I wouldn't be, because I'd be calling myself. Anyway, I'm sure I could tell that story in some deep way, emotions rich in the chest, writing in oscillating prose like on July 31. Maybe I will, eventually. But I want to just--
Suddenly, too, my faith has returned and an overwhelming sense of--look, you don't want to hear about that, either.
Let's get on with that houseboy job. You should be 35-41, connections in publishing, and able to provide an allowance. Blood test mandatory. You obviously know the number.