Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
This story takes place in September or October of 1999. If I have it right, most of this takes place in a hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I forget the hotel name, but I remember it having a pretty good Indian restaurant next door. This would also be the week where I’d see Spryte again for the first time since I left Florida. She had taken a job which required traveling as well, and we arranged to meet up in Pittsburg. We ended up in a gay bar somewhere downtown and she told me that the man she had just met before I moved – the only boyfriend she had who I liked – was now her husband. It was one of those wonderful spontaneous decisions that made a lot of sense in Key West with a belly full of tequila, but as she explained, it was problematic in the “real world”. A lot of this had to do with the simple fact that this was done secretly and no one knew about it yet – not even their parents. And because they were already publicly engaged, they now had to put up appearances with another wedding. This would mean that for the rest of their married life, they would have to celebrate two anniversaries, the real one and the fake one. Her story was like a sitcom that would certainly run past its 22 minute running time.
Spryte’s visit explains the leftover beer in the bathroom sink.
By now, I’m in full swing with my new job, traveling from state to state, a company car filled with maps, a corporate credit card in my wallet, a pager on my belt, and plenty of solitary. Somewhere along the way, I began corresponding with Emily, who I met on a literary message board. Every morning there would be an email from her and every evening I would respond:
Emily titles her letters with days.
In my hotel room in Pittsburgh, I read TUESDAY. She writes about her day yesterday (which is today for me) and then she somehow stumbles on the subject of imaginary friends. She tells me that her imaginary friends were Strobrie and Drajra. She doesn’t know where the names came from. They were both female, she thinks, and they always had the best ideas and told her how to have great fun.
She tells me that in a way, I have replaced them.
You’re imaginary, because I can’t prove that you exist, but real because I’m sure I’m not typing to a total phantom.
This routine would last for almost four years. As you’ll see, Emily has a bigger part later in the book.
The story of my imaginary friend is true, as best as I can remember it. There really are quite a few old photographs of me with the stuffed bunny in my pocket. I’ll post some once I have them. And the detail about not trusting people who didn’t have imaginary friends isn’t entirely true. I might quietly judge you.
This is the second story so far where I cry. I’m such a baby.
Reading this story, I’m surprised how quickly I was reacting negatively to my new job. This story reveals some of the problems that would force me to quit two years later. Being on the road and living in a different hotel every week can be a lot of fun, but I think it works better when you’re doing it for something you love, and auditing pharmacies wasn’t something I could say I loved. This was a weird time in my life. I did get a lot of writing done – for that I’m thankful – but I had no social life to speak of, particularly in the first year before I moved to Philadelphia. I had way too much time to consider things like my imaginary friend and develop a bizarre fear of long hallways.
I think the reason I tolerated this for as long as I did was because I assumed that something must be wrong with me. Everyone important in my life was unusually thrilled about my having this job, as it was my first real job, and the perks were really good. If I played my cards right, I’d be promoted in no time and I’d have the kind of job security a lot of people wish they had. But the bullshit was frighteningly high. A lot of people with the wrong experience and education had power. And though our job was to ensure that we were not breaking any federal drug laws, it was astonishing how willing the company was to break a law or two in order to not be discovered breaking a much bigger law.
Anyway, enough of my whining.
Next time it’s “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”.
#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”