Dawn at Weehawken
I’m currently re-reading The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. The last time I read this book, I was 18. I know this because I write my name and date inside the front cover of all of my books each time I read them. This leads to an interesting tree-trunk look at what I deemed worthy of underlining at different times in my life. The majority of these underlined selections make me think “Uh, okay?” For instance, in 1995, on page 77, I underlined the sentence, “I am Jewish by instinct. We share the same exile.” Wha? Did that really resonate with me, an 18 year old girl in the Midwest? A girl who spent her entire summer before college depressed in her bedroom, completely wasting her youth and her time but more importantly, her long tan legs? That girl was some kind of asshole, let me tell you.
Last year I revisited some books from my adolesence, and not all of them stood the test of time. To Kill A Mockingbird was even better at 26 than it was at 15, but Franny and Zooey made me roll my eyes a lot. I always regretted not reading Salinger until I was 20, which is way too old. I mean, I can appreciate it, and I’ll always have a soft spot for For Esme, With Love and Squalor, but you’ve really got to be barely legal in order to make Salinger stick for a lifetime. Had I read Catcher in the Rye at 16 like everyone else, I might have fallen in love with it, but at 20, I’d already dated Holden Caulfield a few times and was sick of his shit.
I have very little patience for dramatic mopey men, just like I have no tolerance for people who cannot get past the fact that they were once gifted children. I went out once with a guy who made sure I knew right off the bat that he read at an 8th grade level in the 2nd grade, and then spent an hour telling me stories about his early childhood, the kind of stories that you act embarrassed if your parents tell, but you secretly like that they’re telling them. The thing about those stories is that YOU DO NOT TELL THEM YOURSELF. He wound it all up with this smug little half-smile and chuckled, “I guess you can tell I was rather precocious.” I wish you could see the look on my face right now just typing that. My first impulse was to kick him hard under the table. Who SAYS that? Needless to say, this guy was so self-absorbed that it took him several weeks to notice that I wasn’t returning his calls.
Even worse than saying the word “precocious” to someone you’re trying to sleep with is affecting some tormented creative genius persona. You are only allowed to be tortured for your art if war or famine has killed all your family and the only girl you’ve ever loved, you’ve been maimed and persecuted, and maybe the Spanish Inquisition was involved somehow. Not because oh, sometimes when you’re nineteen and live in a small town, it’s hard to get laid! I mean, find true love! It’s for this reason that I cannot stomach Bright Eyes for longer than one single song. Oh, you’re really upset because… remind me again? You have a big anime girl face and sing songs about how you can’t find love, which in turn has you knee-deep in moony-eyed, hoodie-clad trim all across America? Shut up, Conor Oberst.
I’m sad to say that a recent casualty of this aversion was my beloved Alexander Hamilton. Ever since we watched this documentary on New York last winter, Liz and I had harbored a crush on Hamilton because he seemed so dashing and effectual and romantic, born a redheaded bastard in the West Indies and becoming Washington's right-hand man and establishing the financial center of the country before going out with Burr’s bullet. Then we went to the Alexander Hamilton exhibit at the New York Historical Society a few months ago, and suddenly it all became very clear that AHam was nothing but a big old emo boy, carrying on a million affairs despite being married, publically pledging his love left and right, and generally just being a total drama queen about everything. What finally turned me off for good was learning how not only did he enter into the duel INTENDING TO SHOOT AWAY FROM BURR, thus going out in a useless romantic blaze of fake glory, he had ADVISED HIS OWN SON to do this exact same thing a few years earlier! Funny story: his son died. I’m sorry, but telling your kid to aim away on purpose because a Christian wouldn’t kill someone but a gentleman wouldn’t turn down a duel doesn’t make you honorable; it makes you a dick. And not learning from that experience, a real actual horrible experience that you’re sincerely allowed to be torn up over, that just makes you a dumbass.
I guess I should sum this up. So, in summation, I’ll say that all of this has taught me that my ideal man would be a combination of Atticus Finch and John Leguizamo, if only for no other reason than: wouldn’t it be funny to see that guy drunk?