|A Corner of my Studio|
Sometimes, up there, alone, I think: this would be enough. Living alone, in my studio, with maybe a bathroom and kitchen added. I know what all the articles say about single people not being as happy nor living as long, but maybe those people just don't have the right furnishings.
It reminds me of what Frank Girard said once. Frank Girard was a friend and colleague of my father's. They were writing a book on some obscure Socialist Labor Party ephemera, and every Summer Frank would visit from Wisconsin. He wore plaid shirts and had large hands and always took an interest in what I was up to.
The first Summer he came he stayed in my step-sister's old room that was across the hallway from mine. She had moved out and so I had made it into a sitting room and I must have been proud of the whole set-up because as soon as he finished mounting the stairs and could see the hallway and the two rooms he said, “Ah. Every man must have his castle!”
I understood that then, and I understand it now.
Making the whole upper floor into an apartment had always been part of my designs, and as soon as my sister moved out I jumped on to the space with all the first-world imperial privilege a boy my age could muster and annexed her room. I was fourteen.
My bedroom I kept as my bedroom, but I arranged her room to be a sitting room, furnished half in the style of 221 Baker Street B, complete with a magnifying glass and Victorian ort, and half in a more noirish style.
To fulfill the latter I gathered a couple of empty liquor bottles from around the neighborhood and arranged them with an empty bottle of my dad's Canadian Whiskey. I half filled them all with water so that my “bar” consisted of the blended whiskey along with two bottle of “Old Grand Dad.” The picture of the Victorian old man with the spectacles I had seen on billboards for the liquor also went nicely with the Sherlock Holmes aesthetic.
In the late afternoon, or early evening I'd pour myself a glass of the “whiskey”, put my record of “Rhapsody in Blue” on using the large wooden console stereo and then sink into the green faux-leather armchair. I felt like a grown-up. but old-fashioned too, like I was a Bogart detective. The fantasy would continue and although it wasn't specific, I was just a detective in the big city relaxing with his drink at the end of the day, it pushed the boundaries of my natural existence—an assimilated Jewish boy growing up in a Philadelphia suburb and all the angst that comes with the adolescent territory—almost enough, until my mother yelled up to me that it was dinner time, or my father started mowing the lawn. Then I was just a kid again, not a guy in his thirties in the 1940's.
At forty-four, I'm still sitting around in a furnished room, longing for something. The fantasy is a little different now. In the fantasy I'm a writer and a renaissance man, and I draw Arabic calligraphy and play the oud, and as it happens I do all of these things anyway. But in the fantasy I don't have a wife and child, I control everything, and I have lovers who come and go. And some sort of passive income.
When I was a teenager the problem seemed to be that I wasn't a grown-up. And I couldn't be a grown up at that age any more than I could be a real private eye or living in the 1940's. And I certainly didn't think I'd miss my family one day, my parents, or my sister. Those were the people I couldn't wait to get away from.
Now, I have all that and a bag of chips. That's something my wife would say. We've been together long enough that our speech patterns are well-integrated. And I suppose that if I really wanted to I could leave, set myself up in a small studio and live that coveted bachelor life where I fix myself drinks and listen to Gershwin, alone on a chair. Here's what actually happens when I'm by myself, for example when Jill takes my son to Memphis so they can visit relatives: I end up drinking a lot of beer and watching Jackie Chan movies. It's great for the first two days and then I feel lost. I suppose if it had to be that way I would push through it and even achieve some sort of happiness, but I also know something I didn't know when I was fourteen. And that's maybe that I would have enjoyed my sitting room for another hour if no one called me to dinner, maybe even two hours, but after that I would have gotten bored and wanted to hang out with my parents. The only reason my fantasy was appealing was because people were around...for escapism to be effective you need something to escape from.
What keeps me from actually escaping is that without my wife and child my life would be drastically empty, pale and drained. Call me co-dependent, if you want, but we happen to have a great relationship and love all around. I'm very lucky. It's a pain living with anybody, but if it's the right people, it's a gaping pain living without them.
I open the door and walk on to the balcony. The moon is full enough to read Arabic poetry by. The tree in the neighbor's yard is still bare from Winter and the branches open their hands to a swath of glowing sky.
I walk back inside, play a song on the oud and then shut the curtains to utter darkness, crawl into the single bed, and go to sleep.
|Me on my Balcony|