He was a writer; so, he did lots of writerly things like read foreign books on the terrace of cafes or on Oscar Wilde’s grave, teach plebeians about the complexities of the English language and enter into devastating love affairs which inspired his work. From Illinois, he was of the world of cotillions and debutantes, but fancied himself an accidental lowlife who valiantly turned the other cheek when he ought to have hated the world.
This was in Paris and, despite reading all about artists who had escaped to the City of Lights to create their masterpieces, I never thought I would find a real one in this century. He thought himself some sort of modern Ernest Hemingway with a mix of Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound. In a way he was like these men who were rich, young with literary passions and seeking creative freedom across the sea. It seemed that this was all it took to impress the girls he met because he indulged me with cleverly worded and heavily rehearsed anecdotes about the banality of his highly privileged upbringing. The same upbringing which allowed him access to everything he could ever want or need and from the suffocating staleness of which he had managed to escape (with the help of his father’s greenbacks, it turned out).
Now he spent his time writing about the hopeless emptiness of the American Dream, the revolting ugliness of the quest for money and the endless loneliness of being the only one to recognize these faults. I listened to him in awe, unable to believe this man existed in reality and not as some devastatingly satirical creation by Sinclair Lewis.
He had me read some of his unfinished work and sat beside me casually smoking and sipping his red wine, completely unashamed and free of anxiety at having a stranger (yet alone a stranger who also was a writer) read his work. After reading it, I gave him my professional opinion which was predominantly positive, but with small critical suggestions. He nodded in acceptance of these notes and if I stared closely enough I could probably have actually watched my words drift out of his ear and float out the window with the cigarette smoke.
By the time we had our pants off and I was ready to get laid, he was too drunk to keep an erection and, likely embarrassed by this apparent failure, turned away and said he was unable to concentrate since all his energy was currently devoted to the novel he was writing. I laughed in his face at this excuse—a little too drunk myself—and smoked some more cigarettes before leaving.
After we parted I thought of him often while I worked minimum wage jobs that demeaned my intellect but paid my rent. Sometimes, I thought of him and got sore that I couldn’t piss around Europe just drinking, writing and fucking on my parents’ dime. Other times, I thought of him when I needed to reaffirm my own worth as an independent human being who lived a realistic life. A few times, however, I thought of him when I needed a good, hearty laugh.