Here’s one of the things that happened at the two-day ____ and ____ Training:
Trainer: Let’s say you’re building a house. What’s the first thing you do?
My boss’s boss: Make a plan.
Boss: Then we sort of pounded the stakes into the ground and, what do you call it, chalked it out.
Trainer: OK, and after that?
Boss: We checked to make sure everything was correct.
Trainer. OK. Did you dig a hole?
Boss: Yes, that’s what we did first, I guess. We dug a hole.
Trainer: So the first thing you have to do before you do anything is make a mess.
Overheard at the Chase Street Rite Aid, while thirty shoppers waited in a single-file line while waiting to pay the lone cashier on duty:
Shopper one, a man: What they got all these cash registers for, if they only gonna use one of ’em.
Shopper two, a woman: Waiting around, you know.
One: Getting to know each other out here.
Two: It’s like, talk amongst yourselves.
One: Don’t they know people need jobs?
(A third shopper, a man, cuts line, standing just behind the customer at the front.)
Two: The line’s back here.
Three: What? Really?
Two: (Laughing) Yeah, you know it ain’t gonna be that easy.
Three: Oh, OK.
Two: You about to start World War Twelve over a bag of potato chips.
Customer Four, a woman: She said, ‘World War Twelve over a bag of potato chips!’
So my mission, when it comes to this grouping of 75,000 words, is now clear. I need to break hearts. My first inclination was to have everyone end up happy. But it was too easy for them. And so now I’ve got to make them suffer, and to therefore try to make anyone who reads it suffer, too. And it’s a funny thing. As the writer, you know that’s the right thing to to do. As the human, you still want these characters (who I created, after all) to get hugs and to be told it’ll be all right.
So I’ve just realized, in the way that proves that I’m not all that bright, that while I hope and expect to see at least some of these people in some way in some place, quite a few of these fast friends I will never see again. And I don’t know, on these last meetings at lunch, at the cooler full of beer at the French House, on the walks under this hot wet sun, which will be which. It’s a real drag. A real drag that these intense, exhausting, heartbreaking, smart two weeks end in such a sudden breakaway.
It reminds me of college. The tentative, frantic, worrisome first days when it looks as if everyone has more friends than you. The terror of eating alone. The wrong turns in an alien place. The deep gratification of finally (after all of eight or ten or maybe thirteen hours) finding a friend. Finding conversation. Finding someone to get really drunk with. And settling in: the grinding, the staying up too late, the struggle of finding coffee, the struggle to get your homework done in the next hour. And then, four years later, or maybe it’s just two weeks if you’re here in Tennessee and not in years-ago college in Baltimore, that long grind somehow is over and finally you meet at your favorite bar after the ceremony and at the time it feels like just another night in a long series of nights at your favorite bar, arm to arm, hip to hip with your favorite sweaty weirdo people, and then, the next day, you wake up early and you pack your little pack and then the dorm room is empty again and where does all that dense life go and then and you are gone.