I. Seat 9E (JetBlue Flight 669, October 20, 2011)
I found out about my dad's death in a strange, perfect, terrible way.
I had been in New York for eleven days. I had flown back—"back" because I lived in New York for twelve years and still feel like living in Los Angeles is a kind of exile—on Sunday, October 9. I had an event on October 10 and another on October 19 (part of a series I curate on the arts and mental health) and had a flight out on the morning of the twentieth. It was a busy time. I also had a presentation to make at a colloquy on the art of the essay on the fifteenth. I had pieces to polish for all three appearances, plus a deadline for my writer's group the night I arrived, plus a deadline for my MFA program the day before I left. I did get my work done, but fitfully, unhappily, with little sleep, and with a great deal of chocolate, Ritter's Sport Dark with Whole Hazelnuts, purchased two and three bars at a time, from the deli across the street. I was cat-sitting for a friend. I rushed out on the evening of the nineteenth with pages I needed to ship overnight to my instructor— the work felt okay, but not done, like a piece of hamburger meat three-quarters cooked—and an introduction to give for the event that night—pretty much the same—and left the apartment a big mess. [End Page 5]
The weather had been perfect the whole stay, but now it began to rain one of those frigid, dark, October New York rains where suddenly life feels impossible. The crowd was thin—it is hard to turn out crowds even on the best night, but the rain probably hurt us. That soured my mood. My guest was Nell Casey, an old friend, who had edited The Journals of Spalding Gray. Gray was such a dark, enigmatic, self-absorbed man, and his diaries are exhausting, maddening and mind-bending on the basic questions of finding truth (is it possible?) and making art (what's it worth, anyway?). I suppose, if I went back to a tape of the night's conversation, I'd find plenty to appreciate, but listening at the podium, and roaming around giving the microphone to members of the audience, I felt agitated. It felt like we were trying to find boxes to put Gray in, finding ways to frame and make sense of his life, when his true energy was entropy.
I came home in a real quiet rage. It felt like the sort of rage that drove men in undershirts to beat their wives. It wasn't anger. Anger can charge through us like an electrical wire. But at least then you've got a circuit, you've got some kind of connection. Anger is when you know you want something you're not getting, or you know you're getting something you don't want. It is a sentence with a subject and object.
Here the wires had been snipped, and the power was just leaking all through my body. I felt like the object of some sentence in a book on a shelf I could not reach in a language I could not read in a room I could not leave. I felt like an errant seaman, in a storm. I wanted to shake my fists at the heavens from the deck. My metaphors are too many here, and tangled. This, too, is a circumstance of my condition that night (a condition that lingers, these sketches are its manifestation): some kind of simultaneous desire for order and clarity (a respite from what plagues me) and for chaos and confusion (an intensification of, towards a communication of, same).
What happened next was that I cleaned my friend's apartment while streaming Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, a documentary about his tour after leaving The Tonight Show.
I felt sorry for myself for packing again, and for what?
I hadn't enjoyed New...