Two nights ago, round about three in the morning, I was doing what I always do at three in the morning, which is to occupy a gloomily-lit room either texting my friends Back Home across the Atlantic Ocean, or else reading a book that (depressingly) encapsulates my 35-year-old self’s deteriorating sanity and / or worldview. As it happens, on this particular night, I happened to be poorly juggling both.
And so it was that with a book on my lap (Rainer Maria Rilke’s THE NOTEBOOKS OF MALTE LAURIDS BRIGGE (a birthday present from my spirit-brother Jef in Belgium)) and my phone in my hand, I lay there thinking that I’d probably seen or said or thought everything I was going to see or say or think that day, and was at peace with it. The was no point, I thought, in continuing the charade of myself any longer, at least for a little while. I’d swallow some valerian root capsules and close the metal shutters and try to sedate myself into darkness before the sky started to lighten over another beautiful summer day in Berlin. It was a clean and simple plan and I endeavored to begin the countdown to temporary oblivion after finishing one more micro-segment of the novel, what with there being no chapters and all.
But fate had something else in store for me. My phone lit up at full brightness and vibrated in the palm of my hand. I glanced down and saw that my friend Bethany was calling me. I quickly concluded that it was nine pm in Virginia, which is where I assumed she was, and wondered if something terrible had happened, or if she needed my advice about a boy. Or maybe she wanted to get me on the horn just for the sake of the song, so to speak, which is my favorite type of phone call. After the second ring I answered but said nothing in order to build suspense. (If you answer a call but don’t say anything, it really freaks people out.) There was a moment of dead air and then some laughter in the background. I could tell I was on speaker phone. I figured the source of the double laugher was Bethany and Chloe, because Bethany is always with Chloe, which I think is very endearing. We simultaneously exchanged hellos and my suspicions were confirmed. It was immediately obvious to me that this was to be a Shoot The Shit conversation, and I felt a great relief. If there’s one thing that makes my life worth living, it’s shooting the shit with disembodied voices on the other end of my phone.
We got all the current events out of the way, and then Chloe suggested we switch to video. With some reluctance I acquiesced. Video calls have always felt inherently unnatural to me simply because I don’t like having to see myself in the little picture-in-picture square in the corner, and knowing all the while that my hideous face constitutes 95% of the screen real estate on their end of it. I bristle at the thought of this. And yet because I love the two of them and don’t want to come off like a big melodramatic baby, I shotgun-blasted my reservations into dust and joined them in cyberspace.
The three of us spoke at length for several hours. I was stationary here in Berlin, while Bethany and Chloe traversed the entirety of Bethany’s parents’ house, which I have only seen the outside of, first searching for her cats in the basement, then the two of them performing some sort of (impressively) choreographed routine in the bathroom, and finally an extended segment in which I accompanied them to Walmart and back again on a sort of mini-quest to obtain a bottle of Andre champagne before they marathoned some new Star Trek show. (A quick search of my own website reveals that I have written about Andre champagne several times over the last decade, usually in the context of drinking it with a girl I liked at the time. Make of that what you will.)
Anyway, I took some screenshots that I wish to document here because of the little warmth this video call has left in my heart. I present the full odyssey of Bethany and Chloe in chronological order, save for some screenshots of a brief interlude video they showed me (by pointing Bethany’s phone at Chloe’s phone), where the two of them drank milkshakes in Bethany’s car on Grimace’s birthday, and remarking that the milkshakes tasted like candles. At some point in the video, Chloe either laughs so hard that she cries, or cries so hard that she laughs. I told them they should put this video somewhere because of its masterful accidental surreality, which is not unlike the masterful accidental surreality of the call I was an activate participant in the other night.
I had them pose in front of the American and Virginian flags. It made me deeply homesick for the banal and unremarkable place where I had come from and where my friends remained. With incredulousness I had to admit to them that I even missed Walmart.
Back in the car, Bethany set me on the dash with the camera facing them, and the three of us drove home. Minutes later, Bethany parked the car in the driveway of her family’s home, and our side-quest ended with success. We went back inside and I was propped up on the kitchen counter, where, like a six-inch-tall observer, I bore witness to Chloe opening the bottle of Andre (champagne with a twist-off cap!) and pouring two full glasses that the two of them slugged down quick. In that moment there was nothing I wanted more than to be in that house with them drinking that $5 bottle of Andre. I felt a sadness but in the spirit of not wanting to Kill The Vibe, I kept it to myself.
All the while I was paralyzingly aware that contrary to the warm images of my friends, I was merely a gloomy little Grim Reaper-like creep in a room lit like the purgatorial innards of Twitch streamer’s $10,000 gaming PC:
Such is my tale.
I promise I’ll come to Virginia sooner than later. I said as much on the phone. I really ought to go back for a week or two in August. Weirdly, flying from Berlin to New York is insanely cheap . . . I’m talking like $250. So I’ll probably just fly there and stay with Monty for a few days, take the Chinatown bus to Baltimore like I used to do, and from there catch a train to DC out of Penn Station, a trip that takes about twenty minutes station to station. And then, hey presto, I’ll be with my friends in the suburbs of Northern Virginia for a little while, driving around and sippin champagne and smoking Parliaments as the frogs and crickets shriek out into the night.
Well, I love you both. You’re two of the coolest and strangest people I’ve ever met. OK? Good-night~ ☆彡