Two Novels and a Baby (August 7th)

My old college buddy James had really toned down over the last couple years. He’d gotten himself sober, married a girl named Marcie, and started on a weirdly responsible career ladder.  I hadn’t seen much of him since he announced Marcie’s pregnancy. His life entered one of those phases I equate to the turning of a great, invisible wheel. Like in Conan! The Wheel of Life. Except there’s no cool montage to accompany these turns and, in comparison to Conan’s destiny, each turn is actually depressingly mundane.

I was at home licking my relationship wounds and drinking far too much gin when James surprised me by hammering on the door and screaming homosexual themed obscenities. By the time I’d navigated the multitude of deadbolts and ripped the door open, all of my neighbors were standing in their doorways with horrified expressions.

He smiled, swished his hand, took my chin in his other hand, and shouted, “There’s my little cumdrop! How’s that fine ass of yours.”

“Fuck you.”

James turned to my next door neighbor and was about to say something, but I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him inside, slamming the door.

“Seriously, James. Please.”

He grinned. “Oh, whatever. Give these shut-ins something to think about. Now they can bitch you on their Facebook pages. How the worm turns!”

“They don’t even know who I am. If they talk to me, all they talk about is my ex. And she’s been gone for months!”

He slid into my narrow kitchen and popped open the freezer, grabbing the New Amsterdam. He glanced at the label, then turned to me. “Stepping down in the world?”

“I mix. It’s good stuff for mixing.”

“Ah. Frugal alcoholism. The true sign that America has ground to a hideous halt.”

He poured half a pint glass of gin, then topped it off with a splash of tonic. Then he made me one, handed it to me shakily, and whispered, “To the couch, fair Nacho!”

Humid, hot. It was August in DC. My living room carpet felt like I’d sprayed it down with something, and the window unit air conditioners labored heavily against the oppressive heat that seemed to creep in from my neighbor’s homes, above, below, and all around. The gin and tonic was suddenly very welcome.

James took the couch and, breathing against the heat, I settled into the rocker across from him.

“Your old place had central air, didn’t it?” he asked.

“It did. Electric bills I do not miss, chapter 18.”

He laughed. “That’s right. I remember now. You’d always wander around with candles that you made from wax scraps you liberated from dumpsters and shit! That apartment was the House of Usher, man. ‘No one’s been in the second bedroom for years…’”

“So, anyway,” I cleared my throat, “to what do I owe this surprise visit?”

James touched his nose. “We’ll get to that.”

“Uh-oh.”

“The serials on Great Society. This project of yours. What is it? A million words every day or something.”

“Ten to twelve thousand words every month.”

“And all the serials are really gay, by the way.”

“Great. Thanks.”

He shrugged and raised his hands defensively, “No worries. Opinions are like horses. If you had one for every… Wait.”

“It’s not about the stories, really.” I explained, “It’s trying to refine the discipline. To get in the habit of writing that much each month and sticking to it.”

“And how long has it been?”

“Well, September will be a year.”

“So…240,000 words in the last year. Right? Is my math right? I haven’t had any form of education or used my brain since 1997, so you have to help me here.”

I took a long drink of gin.

“Anyway,” James continued, “you’ve done it. You’ve written however many mediocre 12,000 word vomitings and you’ve achieved your goal. You can do it. I read the intro to this Mithras one saying how you haven’t finished it because you’re a pussy or something, but, still. Big change. Your girlfriend abandoned you and left you to die in the pine barrens.”

“Can we not talk about that?”

“Talking’s healthy.”

“Not with you.”

“No? With whom, then?”

“Maybe a therapist.”

He stared blankly at me. “Huh?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Anyway,” he said slowly, “let’s pretend that exchange didn’t just happen and move on. Move on to a time when Nacho is not…a motherfucking pussy! What the fuck! Therapist! My god. You’re the most grounded person I know. You’ve survived an avalanche of evil and here we sit in your posh apartment made for a wealthy spinster recluse and you’re CEO of snooty fuck literary fuck. You’re fine.”

“Yeah, with no girlfriend.”

“You’re also the last person who needs a girlfriend.”

I shook my head. “Uh-uh.”

“Seriously. You’re a nightmare. Your brain is spinning wildly in fifth gear day and night. When you’re drunk, when you’re high, when you’re in the hospital, and after you’ve just tumbled down 30 steps. You need some sort of Xanax-Ritalin hybrid.”

“Not at all, man. And I’m good with women.”

He grinned. “Okay. Fine. Tell me about a woman that you actually do get along with… And who lives closer than 400 miles, and isn’t medicated to the fucking gills. Like, if you squeeze her, Haloperidol tablets pour out of her ass and children dance in the orange rain. Oh, and, also, you need to see her more than once every ten years.”

“Well, hey, there’s – “

“Wives of friends don’t count.”

I drank my gin.

“Right. See?”

“Did you come here tonight to talk me into suicide or something?”

James leaned forward, “I’m here tonight to issue a challenge.”

“Around the world in 80 days using transportation local to the specific countries we cross over and never flying or using highways or high speed trains?”

“Um, no.” James studied me for a moment, “You’re very serious about that, aren’t you?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Maybe someday. My challenge today is a writing challenge.”

I held up a finger, then went to the kitchen and refreshed our gin. When I came back, he waited for me to take another long drink before he leaned forward again.

“My baby is due – “

“Marcie’s baby.”

“Our baby, goddamnit! Our baby is due on December 15th. This Sunday, August 15th, I’m going to start writing a novel.”

I waited for more. When we sat silently staring at each other for nearly a minute, I finally said, “Woo?”

“Woo, indeed. Woo, indeed. I’m gonna race the baby. 260 pages by December 15th.”

“Okay.”

“And you, Nacho, are going to race me. And the baby.”

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s be fair. Let’s say Marcie can’t keep a bun in the oven and the little tyke pops out early. So here’s the challenge: We each write 200 pages, manuscript form, by December 1st. This has to be an actual cohesive novel that you would be comfortable sending to a publisher or agent. It can’t be ‘All work and no play makes Nacho a dull boy.’ Okay?”

“Well, that’s my plan shot down.”

He grinned. “So 200 by December 1st. Then we just keep writing till the baby drops. See where we are then.”

I rocked for a while, thinking about the commitment, and how I’d weave writing a novel around five jobs.

“There’s more,” he said.

“Yes?”

“You can’t post it. You and I can share chapters, if you some perverse need to do so, but no GS shit. You focus on the writing, not on the GS audience.”

“I have to update the page.”

“Then do progress report shit. But don’t use my fucking name. Or any personal details. I hate it when you write about me.”

“So I can;t mention Marcie and her baby?”

“No!”

“So I’m competing against you and a baby and I can’t talk about it?”

“Well…maybe make shit up. Change names. Turn me into someone boring. Like your Mormon friend or something. And make Marcie a large black man.”

“With a baby?”

“You got it.”

“So we start Sunday?”

“August 15th to December 15th.” he stood up. “And, with that, exeunt James!”

“What? You’re leaving? Also exeunt means more than one person is leaving.”

“Exeunt fucking me and…fuck you, then.”

“You came all the way over here just to issue this insane challenge?”

He hunched his shoulders in mock apology, “Hey, I wanted to get out of the house.” He headed to the door and put a hand on the knob. “Also, it’s my week for Nacho Suicide Watch.”

“I’m not suicidal.”

His smile was sad, genuine. “We’re all worried about you. I know that’s retarded. I’m sorry. If any of us were in your shoes today… Well, I don’t think any of us would be. Maybe we’re all just…waiting for the break. Do you feel it coming sometimes?”

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Life is pain, Princess.”

I allowed a smile, “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

That seemed to satisfy him. He opened the door, turned back and said, “Get writing,” and then he was gone.

And I still had plenty of gin…but no words at that moment.

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