Theme from an Unfinished Novel: “mixtape, 10/13/94”


TRACK 1:
THE FIXX, “SECRET SEPARATION”

“I’ll bear one precious scar that only you will know.”

wednesday, october 12, 1994
12:23 a.m.

Hm. Lemme try to set the scene: generous two-window booth snuggled against the northeasternmost corner of the T&R Restaurant, Albany, Oregon, population: lost. My own little naugahyde fiefdom, where I people-watch in silence. Noticing. Observing. Calculating. Contemplating. Eventually judging. At the moment it’s just me and my Dr. Pepper, which I quaff in place of coffee since I can’t stand the shit, which makes me a virtual outcast in my own generation. When I’m not scarring this journal with nonsense, I’m fiddling with one of the many sugar packets at my disposal, creasing them down the middle until, exhausted, they open sadly in my fingers. I then discard the carcass for a fresh victim. About four fingertips from that is the aforementioned opened journal; its spartan lines and white expanse mock me. But we’ll see who the fuckin’ man is shortly. About an hour from now I’ll return it to the backpack resting at my feet, when my crowd starts trickling in.

Well, when I say “my crowd,” what I mean is a slew of people you’ll never personally meet. You won’t experience them in what Garth Algar called the Now; they’ll be echoes, imprints on an empty beach. These are my buddies outside the workplace, and this has pretty much been our regular shit-shooting forum every night for the last three years, ever since that initial study group in Professor Seaver’s Introduction to English Lit. There were seven of us originally, all with a shared jones for obnoxious nocturnalism and heavy-when-you’re-18 pseudophilosophical discourse. It all started in earnest, of course, but you can only discuss the purple prose of an old bore like Wordsworth for so long. Pretty soon the poetry and flop-sweat metaphors gave way to more spirited topics, like sex, politics, music, film, and bagging on everyone without the good fortune of being us.

Now we’re down to four. Life happened to the rest. Turned out Barry was serious about growing up; he got his associates and moved on to Kent State hoping to eventually write a book about the aftermath of campus unrest 20 years later, but don’t quote me on that — we haven’t heard Peep 1 in a while. Kendra settled (no pun intended) with her dramarama high school boyfriend (gauche), and they both hightailed it for suicidal mediocrity out in Millersburg. Sad shit. Adam just stopped coming. I run into him occasionally at the mall; he has short hair now, though he insists he’s growing his beard back. Then there’s been the usual parade of significant others and brief stops, but the remaining founding four, the establishing crust, the board of directors, we’ve stayed pretty steady. It’s me, Travis, Dennis, and Jenny now, though Dennis and Jenny are practically the same person these days.

We’re the one constant force in this restaurant. Same table, same waitress. Doreen. We’ve squeezed an extra e (Doreeen, and we’re considering making it even longer) into her name when we squall for service, to emphasize our whining tone, but she manages to put up with us and has even been known to fire back wicked cracks of her own when we get too sassy. She knows us so well. Like, get this: She knows that Jenny can handle three cups of coffee. Max. Then it’s time for the big pee. So Doreeen’s always reminding us to let her sit near the edge, where escape is possible. Doreeen also knows that although I start my night with a simple Dr. Pepper, around 2 a.m. I’m gonna get peckish and graduate to solids, ordering one of two menu items: the No. 4, a ham ’n’ cheese omelet with syrup on the side; or the No. 19, a fat bacon burger caged in a mass of ketchup-spattered steak fries, followed by a stream of Cherry Coke to stave delirium.

Tonight — well, all right, today, if you’re gonna be anal — I arrived earlier than usual, because I wanted a little solitude. It’s hard to explain why. I mean, these are my friends and we’ve been through a lot, and we have these supposedly quasi-meaningful, revelatory dialogues, and we analyze each other’s dreams, for Chrissakes, but I think, oddly enough, that the biggest thing we share is that we share nothing. We all have our little secrets. I have tons. My first secret is that when I get melancholy, like so, I visit the jukebox and punch in E17. Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55,” as funneled through the shameful harmonies of the Eagles, the kind you want to hear over and over again while you stare wistfully at a smile entombed at the bottom of a beer.

My second secret is that I love you. And even though they don’t know you, I could never tell them that I do. I’d never hear the end of it. The interrogations, the prying, the willowy, smoky catcalls, and that humiliating acknowledgment of weakness in the steely resolve for which I am storied. Right now this is just between us and the sugar packets.

How I came to this futile realization is trademark me: the finality of your absolute goneness. I punished myself earlier tonight by stopping at your old place, where you’d only been hours before, and staring into the blackness of your windows. What was once inevitability cushioned by time and distance and fantasies of perfect sweet talk on the perfect nonexistent summer night has become a repulsive silence, and I’ve gotta sit here and deal with it the only way I know how: the perfect letter. The one that’ll make you cry and, at best, bring you back. Or, at worst, force you to remember me fondly for the rest of your life. Somehow this is the way it must be, the television-fed chickenshit Mortes de Arthur nobility of romantic pesso-masochism, where I purposely deny myself the Ultimate Happiness — because pining from afar just hurts too fucking cool.

Ah, well. Que sera la vie. Gotta wrap this up before my Pepper gets jealous of me wasting all this syrup on this letter I’ll never have the balls to actually send. You’ll be receiving the emasculated version about a week from now, when I’ve finally exhaled. Until then, goodnight, and I’ll silently lust for you in my heart.

Sincerely,

Eric P.

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