by William Michaelian
Hollywood says make it big, but I say make it small. I say, if you make it small enough, it will be the biggest damn thing youíve ever seen. But Hollywood disagrees. Hollywood wants me to use dynamite. So I tell Hollywood to forget it.
Then my agent calls. Whatís this I hear about you telling Hollywood to forget it? he says. How many times do I have to tell you, talk to me first. I hate reading these things in the paper. What am I, a magician?
I donít know what you are, I say. But by now, you should know where I stand.
Then my agent reminds me of how much money is at stake, and says I should play along. Finish this project, he says, then you can do whatever you want.
The project is finished, I say. Then I hang up on him and take a walk in the park.
And you know what? Itís great. Everywhere I look, I see my theory in action. Small things, tiny things, grab my attention. I see a gum wrapper and I say to myself, Man, this is fabulous. For a reason I will never know, someone wanted to chew a stick of gum. Why? Was he about to meet his girlfriend and afraid his breath was bad? Was he nervous? Lonely? If he was lonely, he must have been really lonely, if he thought a stick of gum would help. Or what if he was a she, and she was with another she, and they were talking about him? If they were, what were they saying about the poor sap? Maybe they had both gone out with him at one time or another, and had decided the guy was a bore because all he could do was talk about his mother ó which would be understandable, because no woman appreciates having to compete with a manís mother. Itís hard enough competing with his other girlfriends, which she knows he has, even though he doesnít, because he adores her so much and is still building his confidence after being dumped the last time.
Of course, I am also concerned about the old guy who was sitting on the bench not far from where the gum wrapper was dropped. There is no one there now, but itís easy to picture him pretending to doze while he watches the young ladiesí every move, thinking some very dangerous and foolish thoughts. The funny thing about that is, the women donít even know heís there. I mean, they know, but theyíve written him off because heís old, and they talk freely because they assume heís deaf. And for awhile, at least, he wishes he was deaf, because itís boring to hear about a guy whoís a bore. But eventually the conversation moves on to more interesting things, one of which is something that happened the previous Saturday night when they allowed themselves to get a little too drunk in the company of some rowdy male friends who were also a little too drunk. This part he enjoys immensely, as did, apparently, everyone else.
The party must have been something. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing what really happened that night because, as everyone knows, when people talk about what happens at parties they tend to exaggerate. But the old guy doesnít mind. As far as heís concerned, the more exaggeration the better. After all, heís been to a few parties himself ó something else the young women obviously consider beyond the realm of possibility. Or maybe they look at him and remember a party they saw in an old movie where everyone was drinking soda pop and bobbing for apples. But this isnít the kind of party he remembers at all. The parties he remembers were full of booze, music, and wild conduct. The fact is, they were so much fun, itís a miracle he remembers them at all ó except the one that took place on a warm summer night at a friendís cabin near a beautiful, quiet lake, because thatís the party during which he asked his secretary to join him for a nude swim in the presence of his wife, who, earlier that very same evening, had begun an affair with the secretaryís husband. Character-defining parties like that, one never forgets.
And thatís the trouble with young people. They think they know everything. I know when I was young, I sure did. But now that Iím a mature adult, I can proudly say I know less with each passing year. In fact, I know so little that when I speak of it, it passes for wisdom. Still, I know what I know. And what I donít know, I know isnít really that important, because I know people who know almost everything and it still does them no good. Knowledge is a burden. Iíve yet to meet a person who is happy because he is knowledgeable. Happy people arenít happy because of what they know. Theyíre happy because they place less emphasis on knowing and more on noticing. Ignorance, on the other hand, is another thing entirely. You can know everything there is to know and still be ignorant. It happens all the time. For example, on a daily basis, knowledge is used as a weapon to keep people down and take advantage of them. What could be more ignorant than that?
Anyway. Pretty soon I come to a gazebo with roses climbing all over it. This is my favorite place in the park. If I were in love, this is where I would bring the object of my affection. Inside, there is a beautiful white bench that goes all the way around. Wherever you sit, there is sunlight and flowers. Really, itís a crime being here alone. It bothers me. It also bothers me that such a thing should bother me, because usually I like being alone. Essentially, weíre all alone anyway. Thatís what makes being in love so nice. Being in love means having someone to be alone with. When people are alone together, they notice all sorts of things they might otherwise ignore.
Naturally, the same can be said for being alone by yourself. I think this is why, while Iím in the gazebo and thinking my profound, lonely thoughts, I canít help but notice a woman out for a walk, and that she is heading in my direction. From where I sit, I can see her, but she canít see me. When she arrives, I stand up and clear my throat so she wonít be alarmed. Then I say hello, and she smiles and returns my greeting. Then I say, Isnít this a beautiful place? and she says, Yes, it certainly is, Iíve thought about it many times while I was away, and I say, Oh, really? Where have you been? and she says, Itís a long story, and I smile and say, Thatís the kind of story I like, and she smiles and climbs the wooden steps, and together in silence we inhale the fragrance of roses.
For a long time, neither of us speaks. What is there to say, anyway, that hasnít been said before? Instead, the roses speak for us. In colors soft and aroma sweet, they say the things that are impossible to say. They say the things that were said in the beginning, before words were necessary. They say so much, that within a few moments, we are no longer strangers. And they go on saying.
An hour passes. Then another. Finally, we remember our lives outside the gazebo. She asks me what I do for a living. I tell her nothing. I tell her I slay dragons. I tell her I am a tiny boat tossed upon a restless sea. I tell her everything but the truth, because the truth seems like the easy way out, and because it misses the point entirely. I tell her, For a living, I come to the park. Later, I go home and look at my face in the mirror to see if I am still who I think I am. Then I go to bed and dream about it. When I wake up, my agent calls me on the phone and tells me I should be concerned about money. Then I tell him to go to hell. Itís an odd arrangement, but it seems to work. How about you? And she tells me exactly the same things, except that the details are completely different.
Oddly enough, this is just the kind of miracle Iíve been trying to tell Hollywood about all along, and also my agent, who, if the truth were known, is really a pretty nice guy, even if he is a low-grade money-grubbing bastard who wouldnít recognize a good gum wrapper if it jumped up and bit him on the nose.
And then there is the walk home. And the shared memory of a life thatís so unreal it could belong only to me and a few other million people.
How nice, then, to wake up the following morning and find she is still here, sleeping peacefully beside me.
William Michaelianís newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelianís other books and links to this siteís other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.