Jeremy approaches Dave’s office. They’ve known each other since the fourth grade. Their relationship has been up and down since then, but being in the same graduate program over the last several years, has turned them into pals.
Jeremy knocks on Dave’s door quickly. Four times. David knows the knock… He puts down a paper he has been reviewing, glad to be rid of it. The student in question is smart and sincere but he tends to overreach and Dave isn’t sure how to communicate with him gently.
“It’s open” he shouts to Jeremy
“Not at all.”
David returns the loose pages on his lap to the original paper clip. Carefully he sets it aside. He sees that Jeremy is upset, which is how he usually is when he comes visiting.
“Still stuck with your thesis?” Dave asks him. “Believe it or not, I finished mine. I handed it in yesterday.”
Jeremy offers his hand. “Congrats. We’ll have to celebrate.”
“How about now? Let’s get out of here.”
Just off campus is a coffee shop that they both like. It is a funky combination of old oak Windsor chairs grouped around tables. Part of the floor is peeling linoleum, part unfinished wood. There are two well worn leather sofas, cracking with dryness. In front of them are coffee tables, covered by today and yesterday’s newspapers. The whole thing would be bleak were it not for several nice looking student waitresses who dress the place up, that and loud Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Richie Havens, Mother Earth. A busboy puts water in their glasses. Each of them holds up his glass
“To Dr. Miller” Jeremy clicks his glass on David’s for a toast. He nods encouragingly .. “practically there.” Dave eyes say thank you:
“To Dr. Slater, who is about to get his act together starting this afternoon.”
Jeremy smiles. “I wish.”
“You wish? Enough wishing. You just have to do it.”
“Okay Mr. Get–It–Done Dave, what’s your secret?” He again clicks Dave’s glass, a bit aggressively.
“No secret. You just have to tunnel ahead. Dig your way there.”
“Through the mud.”
“Mud, hail, rain. It won’t happen where you are most of the time. Flying high.”
“You mean the pot?”
“You could use a few less “oh wows!” And more “one plus one equals two.” But even without the pot I think that’s where your head is all the time anyway.”
“So come on down. Digging. What’s the word everyone uses?… Being grounded.”
“You mean working?”
“Exactly. But real work, not the inspired kind.”
“Being inspired is real. Just because you are excited and enjoying yourself?”
“Well I mean the other kind. Work, work.”
Jeremy waxes poetically:
“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
David is impressed:
“I didn’t know you were religious.”
He nods, “If I find a good line.”
“You like that part about the dust?”
Jeremy repeats it “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” Not my favorite. Doesn’t matter? I’m making enough bread.”
“I’d call it cake.”
This doesn’t get a smile from Jeremy, more like a frown. Taking note that Jeremy is upset, Dave dials back, smiles at him generously. It has little effect. Jeremy’s sadness remains.
“Okay come to mama. What’s wrong?”
“I’m in love.”
“When did I ever say I was in love?”
“A thousand times.”
“You implied it.”
“No I didn’t. This is real.”
“Last time it was real.”
“You mean Martha? I never said that was love.”
“You said you were turned on.”
“Yeah I was, but this is different. This is like nothing I’ve ever felt before.”
David is used to Jeremy’s dramatics. He accepts that whatever is getting Jeremy down is real to him. But he erupts so frequently it has made Dave not take him as seriously as Jeremy would like. Fortunately Dave is often entertained by Jeremy’s excitement, and sometimes he does take Jeremy’s whims as seriously as Jeremy would like them to be taken. That is enough.
“Go ahead. I can tell this is a big one.”
“It’s one of my students.”
“I expect nothing less. You don’t like keeping things simple. “
“No. This is something else. I think this is where I’ve been heading all my life.”
Dave smiles gratuitously.
The waitress comes to their table. She’s very attractive. Both of them, but particularly David, look at her flirtatiously. She is enjoying their attention.
“Two coffees.” David tells her.
The waitress leaves. She has a nice walk. Their eyes follow her. She knows it. She thrives on the looks she gets from the tables she serves
Jeremy begins: “When you were younger, did you think that one day you were going to find this incredible woman and that would be it?”
“You mean like our waitress?”
Jeremy looks him in the eye.
“I guess so.”
“I’ve built my life around her. “
“Come on.” Dave replies playfully.
“No, I mean it. It’s true. Everywhere I’ve been, I was searching for her. Without her I wasn’t really living. More like preparing. But if I found her, then my life could begin… You’ve never felt that?”
David is detached:
“If I went to the museum I would look at the paintings, but I was rarely completely absorbed. I liked a few, was bored by others, but none of them gave me what I was looking for. Perhaps in the next room I might find a painting that would grab me. But if I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a nice looking woman meandering ten, twelve feet away, that feeling disappeared. She had me.
Nothing usually happened. I didn’t, I still don’t have the boldness to proceed as I picture myself in my fantasies, but I was engaged. In the next moment, anything might happen.
When I lived in the Village I’d walk the streets. Street after street. Sometimes hour after hour. Same thing. Looking, looking. It’s why I moved to the Village, to up the chances.
Ever see a movie of a male lion, wandering. Same thing, wandering, looking everywhere, hoping to pick up a scent. They say he is guarding his territory, I think he’s looking for a mate. Or two.”
“Plenty of guys do that. They’re looking to get laid.”
“But that wasn’t it. This started when I was 12 or 13. Okay maybe my hormones pushed me. But it wasn’t that. Well it was a little, but I was looking for…” He hesitates, considering whether to continue.
“You want me to say it?”
“The holy grail? What?”
Close to whispering Jeremy answers him
It is an awkward moment. Saying it openly, putting it that way is not very cool. They both know it. He’s confessing to motivations that they, that he should have overcome long ago.
“Sounds stupid, but everything important sounds stupid.”
“It’s not stupid but you make it so dramatic. It sounds pumped up, like you are making a big production out of it.”
“It’s real. I didn’t decide to talk about it this way for effect. It’s just always been there.”
“In the second grade I had this dream. Many times. I’m not talking about a fantasy. A dream. I’d wake up and remember it. I was superman, flying, looking, returning to earth for my princess. Usually she was the prettiest girl in the class. For two years it was Mindy Nussbaum. Sometimes I’d crash but sometimes I came down smoothly and swept her up into the sky.”
David’s eyes continue to wander through the room, hoping to continue his flirtation with the waitress. He watches her serve another table. Jeremy realizes where Dave is at. It’s okay. He has also done the same thing, eyed a pretty girl when Dave wanted him to pay attention. Jeremy, nevertheless, admonishes Dave.
“Can I go on?”
“It’s all yours.” David answers “
“Do you know why I came to Buffalo?”
He kids: “Yeah you followed me.” They both know that isn’t true. They’re friends, good friends, but not that good.
“The real reason… You’re not going to believe it.”
“When it comes to you I believe anything. Why did you come to Buffalo?”
“Because when I came up for an interview I saw this student in the cafeteria. It was maybe a glimpse, but she was beautiful. That’s why I came here. To meet her.”
“You were already married.”
“I know, but I flipped.”
“Who was she?”
“I never saw her again.”
David’s eyes mock him, but affectionately.
“I know it’s idiotic.”
David says nothing.
“But it’s true.”
“You’ve done that more than once?”
“It’s crazy. There’s got to be a name for it.
Sweetly Dave asks, “What does your shrink say?”
“She throws it into some big basket. Psychiatry has maybe 6 or 7 of them. She’s actually been hinting that she’s figured me out. “
“She’s been hinting. She doesn’t know for sure, but she thinks, along with 6 million other people, I have bipolar disorder.”
“So that explains you?”
In a sarcastic tone Jeremy continues:
“According to her that explains me. She’s nailed it. I’m like 6 million other people. “
“So what do you think your diagnosis is?”
“I’m in love.”
“I’m just telling you like it is. I mean I may go overboard…”
“Everything I’ve ever done. Everything! Every award in college, every home run I hit, every basket I scored… People put together a CV trying to impress a future employer. My accomplishments, whatever they’ve been— it’s all been for that day when I would find the woman of my dreams. I’d lay it at her feet. Sweetly tell her. I’m the one. Look at what I’ve done!”
David has a shit eating grin as he speaks. Jeremy smiles along with him like he’s in on the joke.
“What’s so funny?”
“Your life is a Hollywood movie.”
“Yeah well. There’s a reason they make all those movies. I’m not alone feeling this way.”
Still noticing Dave’s reaction he complains. “You’re still laughing at me.”
“I know you’re serious. It’s just you have a knack for admitting to things that no one else even mentions. Well maybe teenage girls. But guys? Not even in passing. Sure I’ve watched those movies and gotten in to them. As much now as ever. Even at my age. I’ve been there in real life too. So have most men, but it’s usually a disaster. After their ass has been kicked, after they have been humiliated often enough, they’ve learned their lesson. They steer clear. Having a broken heart is not where most guys want to be.”
Jeremy’s attention wanders off.
“Where are you?”
“This song… Carol wrote it.”
Half mumbling half seriously he sings:
“HEY YOU WITH THE BROKEN SMILE
COME ON OVER AND STAY FOR A WHILE
HEY YOU WITH THE HUNGER IN YOUR EYES”
“Can’t remember the rest…”
Jeremy hums the tune for a moment
I RECOGNIZE THAT LOOK ON YOUR FACE
A SHATTERED HEART STILL SEARCHING FOR GRACE
DISAPPOINTED? I KNOW IT’S NOT THE WAY YOU PLANNED.
DARLING SAVE YOUR WORDS
BECAUSE I KNOW THAT’S THE WAY IT HAPPENS
YOU WOULDN’T BE THE FIRST
TO BE STANDING
WITH YOUR HEART LEFT IN YOUR HANDS
Dave shakes his head. Looks up to the sky.
“Carol wrote that?”
“She writes beautiful songs. Personal ones. She says no but that song is about me. I’ve been there. Pretty sure I inspired her lyrics.”
“I’m sure you did. But most guys after it happens once, twice… most guys stick to sports. But you. I don’t know whether you’re incredibly stupid or fearless. It’s a stage you’re supposed to get by. You’re 28. Move on.”
“Oh, Mr. Maturity.”
Insistently Dave continues, “The girl of my dreams, of your dreams, of every guy’s dreams, is exactly that.”
His voice rises: “A fucking dream! You’re 28! Why do you have a problem with that? Why are you stuck?”
Somewhat meekly Jeremy answers him:
“Open your eyes. It isn’t just love. You make such a big deal about finding the truth. It’s right in front of you. It’s called the way things are.”
Dave continues. “Your dream girl. You’ve devoted your life to finding her? She doesn’t exist.”
“You’re too chicken to think about this, aren’t you?”
“Chicken? I’ve moved on. It’s not in the stars. I’m right here on earth digging ditches.”
Jeremy counters: “I’ve dug a thousand ditches. How do you think I got so many fellowships to come here. I‘ve worked my ass off. It doesn’t change anything.”
“It’s a strange coincidence that you’ve fallen in love exactly when your head has to be on straight, exactly when you have to get your thesis done.”
“I don’t think this has anything to do with it.”
Dave shakes his head more seriously, “You’re in never—never land. You’re fucking Peter Pan.” He chants “I won’t grow up. I won’t grow up.”
“You are the biggest cynic.”
“Cynic? I’m just telling you what you already know.”
“Flying around in never, never land. You got to dig ditches not fly around. Learn how to be satisfied. It is possible. Lana and I have made it work. Warts and all. She’s a real person. No body else gives a shit. She does. I’ll take that.”
“Look, I’ve done the same thing with Carol. And she’s terrific. I realize what I’m talking about is asinine. “
“Puer aeternus. Living your life waiting for your ship to come in.”
“I don’t need that Jungian shit. Look I know you are right. Absolutely right.”
“You’re not 14 anymore.”
“You’re right. You’re right. You are right. Believe me I know it. You’re right. It’s not like I didn’t do the same thing. I got tired of waiting. I married Carol to go forward, to get on with it instead of waiting.”
“You fuckin’ seized the day.”
“So you like Bellow?”
I read Seize the Day years ago. I had an epiphany. Only it lasted maybe 4 minutes.”
“You read too much.”
“Me? You’re the one. You need to get your thrills outside of books.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“I’m gonna’ sign us up for a polar expedition.”
“We’ll be the first Jews from Brooklyn, who grew up in an apartment house, to go to the North Pole.”
“How about Antarctica?”
David takes a breath, refocuses.
“So what are you going to do?”
“You know what I am going to do.”
With a gentle still friendly edge of superiority David eggs him on,
“I do. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve waited all your life, everything you’ve strived to become… it’s been for—
“CC! Oh boy. I get it. I have her in one of my classes.” He smiles. “She’s a knockout. Remember at Penn, Davidoff’s class—how he went on about Helen of Troy?”
“The face that launched a thousand ships.”
“He left his wife and kids. CC’s even more beautiful than his girlfriend. I get it…”
“Which makes her all the more dangerous. Chasing Helen resulted in thousands of people dead.”
“And the end of Davidoff’s marriage.”
“I have no choice. I can’t get her out of my head. It’s strange. This is supposed to happen when your marriage is bad. I love Carol as much as I ever have. We have a good thing going. Carol doesn’t bore me at all. I admire her. I’ve never had a friend like her.”
“That song you sang. She got inside of you. She loves you.”
An image comes into Jeremy’s mind. Carol smiling at him adoringly.
David watches Jeremy sympathetically as his eyes water. Then defying that moment, Jeremy proclaims,
“I can’t help it.”
“Do you still get turned on by Carol?”
Jeremy thinks it over.
“Not as much.” But then he quickly recants, “No it’s fine. She gets turned on and she’ll do practically anything I want to do. Wherever my head goes, it turns her on. She goes crazy. And that makes me go crazy.”
“Do you have to dream up things?”
“Not really, well sometimes but what’s wrong with that? Variety is the spice of life.”
“We haven’t gotten that far. I don’t know if we ever will.”
“But do you have to dream up stuff?”
“You mean kinky? No. With CC I’m there. I’d go ape–shit for a kiss.”
“Still. You know what you have with Carol. You’re lucky. You have it all. What’s the problem?”
“It’s not complicated. CC erases everything else. I can’t take my eyes off of her. I can’t think about anything else. I’d do anything for her.”
“I understand but—“
“If you were in a room with Elizabeth Taylor you’d want to stare at her. Stare and stare. But you couldn’t. You’d look like a jerk, like a nut. So people buy magazines, or they watch her in a movie so they can get a good look. That’s what CC is for me. Only she is living and breathing. If she could be mine!”
They are both quiet for a few moments.
“Do you remember the first time you saw the Eiffel Tower. You dropped right?”
“Yeah, but what about the second and third time?”
“I can get lost in her. Every detail. It’s new every time. Her dimples. The way her chin—”
“Jeremy I get it…”
David waits for what he is saying to register. He sees no signs. He continues:
“Beautiful is nice. Beautiful is beautiful. But a taste… That’s all you get. The last thing you need Jeremy is to fall under a spell.”
“This isn’t a spell. It’s the real thing.”
“Believe me it’s a spell.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Being outside of it you think that way. When it happens…” He counters “It could happen to you.” He takes a deep breath. “My head is spinning. I can’t just drop it and go on with other things. I can’t. Who can do that?”
“Millions of people.”
“That’s all you have to say?”
“What’s there to say? Look, the important question is whether you would leave Carol for her. Would you?”
“You know that for sure?”
“Absolutely. I love Carol. I know I am lucky. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“So stay away from CC. She’s dangerous. You said you discussed this with your psychiatrist.”
“I’m going to.” But as he says this, Jeremy has a disgusted look on his face. He puts 2 thumbs down in front of him.
“Your shrink’s no good? Go to someone else.”
“Let’s not go there…”
They both take a breather as they think about what they have been saying.
“Everything you are saying makes sense except for one thing. “
“I’m feeling fantastic. I’m finally alive. I look at the trees, the sky. And I see them.”
“When I’m reading, I’m understanding what’s on the page more than I ever have. The possibility of me and CC does that.”
“Marijuana makes you manic Jeremy.”
“You know, that isn’t what this is. You’ve given up David. I remember this guy…”
(a bit too patronizing) “It’s called growing up.”
(sarcastically) “Big shot.”
Dr. Weiss, Jeremy’s psychiatrist, finishes writing a prescription for Depakote. Jeremy is focused, confident. Dr. Weiss is extremely concerned as she hands it to him.
“You need to take this three times a day.”
“You’re sure I’m manic depressive? I just don’t know about that.”
“You started seeing me when you were depressed about your thesis. You couldn’t get it done. You knew the way you felt was not normal. It was an illness. This is the polar opposite of it. It’s not unusual on the upside to feel like you do, the best you have ever felt. Bottom line is that you still aren’t taking care of business. It’s the same, no thesis.”
“What I feel has nothing to do with my thesis. I don’t see anything wrong with feeling like this. “
“Well I do. Take the medicine.”
“You’ve tried this before. You gave me meds last year. They just made me tired.”
“This is a different medication.”
“Right. It’s going to cure me, change me.”
“Mr. Slater. No medicine is perfect, but it can make a big difference. Your illness has to be treated. If you don’t comply I may ask your wife to come in for a conference.”
“You can’t do that without my permission.”
“If I have to I will.”
“Fine. I’ll take the medicine.”
Dr. Weiss scrutinizes him. He is not convincing. Jeremy doesn’t make eye contact. She lets that be. Her next patient is waiting.
As soon as Jeremy leaves Dr. Weiss’ office he tears the prescription up. He throws it into the refuse container next to the elevator.