You took the train outside the city to see the Holmenkollbakken ski jump, it was late summer, green out. You went to the top and stood where they take off from, like the top of a roller-coaster. “Not for me!”
Then you visited a museum where they had recovered a large (100 foot?) Viking ship from the bottom of the ocean and were restoring it. They had to spray a solution on it for 24 hours a day for an estimated seven years to keep it from crumbling.
You were alone, wandering. How much beer did you drink? Or maybe akvavit?
When you walked off the base in Bremerhaven, you had a thirty day Eurail Pass, $300, and no itinerary. So you went to the station and got a train to Denmark (where you had been before). Normally you would look for 8-12 hour train rides at night in order to save on a hotel. Either on the train to Denmark or probably from Stockholm to Oslo, you were in a cabin by yourself when a guy came in and sat down. You nodded to each other but never spoke, assuming he didn’t speak English. Eight hours later when the train pulled into the station, you got up and put on your pack, said “goodbye.” He looked up and said “goodbye!” so you asked where he was from, and he said Cleveland, Ohio.
From there you just traveled down through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Spain before running out of time and returning to the base. You went to Frankfurt and flew to New Jersey in the cargo hold of a huge transport plane. You had planned to hitchhike to Ohio, but you were too tired and flew home.
West down the Lincoln Highway, then hit 71 South: no Ohio State football home game this weekend, so a smooth ride and quick. Haven’t taken this route since 2002: when Bean’s grandfather landed his single-engine prop in Wooster to pick him up and took you, Marco, and Mark Outlaw along to fly slow and steady down to Columbus. After some doughnuts and coffee, Bean drove you all back in his 1986 Dodge station-wagon with wood paneling and an America sticker on the back window.
From Wooster to Columbus is a straight route of memory: back and forth to see shows at the Legion of Doom and the Fire Escape (Hot Water Music, Golden, Inept, Mid Carson July); to open up for Puritan and some other band (was it Franklin, out of Philly?) at the Legion when you and J were in Rockefeller; to practice with the Anchor Baby and go record shopping at Used Kids; to watch everything at More than Music Fest (Charles Bronson, Four Hundred Years, the Locust); to visit Damien, Jimmy, and Jerome. A route best soundtracked by Modest Mouse: “Ohio” going south, “Dramamine” coming back north.
This time it’s the Startup podcast for most of the way down: then a quick nap underneath a few pages of Unamerica. Welcome to Delaware – but Ohio, Ohio. Park in the driveway till J pulls in with suit and briefcase: load the gear in and set up, Fritz barking and a good presence. Jam a few riffs for 20 minutes to gauge the levels and the neighborhood shake: good, good, but you shouldn’t start before 10 AM Saturday.
Take off for a “Macedonian Burger,” onion rings, and a Hoppin’ Frog at Son of Thurman: after a Trappistes Rochefort right next door. Catching up: Poland, Ohio, Kraków, North Canton, Barbertucky, Akron rowdiness, jobs, the crew. Back to J’s to watch the Cavs beat the Celtics: 122-121.
Next morning coffee, eggs, bacon, jalapeno cream cheese on a bagel: adjust the drum levels, plug everything in. A quick convo after a set of guesses: set the mics up and hope for the best. Put on your Zildjian drumming gloves: first time to feel that need, but your hands are uncalloused after a year of virtual no-playing, the blisters imminent. Start jamming the riffs, adjust your parts and fills, keep it big: your cymbals up high, visions of Mario Rubalcaba playing in Earthless. Plenty of back and forth on song structure, take down the notes: let’s switch part C with A, and B should go for eight not just four, and what about doing the “Fugazi part” again at the end? You think about starting the song with some noise/free-jazz drumming at the beginning, as you had in a never-recorded Hobo Codes song (“Guns and Caviar”): then launching into the heavy. Cast that idea aside to pare the drumming down and get it done: written and recorded in about three hours.
Break for a snack: dates and water, cheese and crackers. You rest in that non-verbal mode that comes on like a bright cloud after drumming: exhausted and full of adrenaline. All will, commentary, theorizing: subsumed to the percussive. All discursive potential: drowned by focus behind the kit. Palms already getting torn up, blisters on the rise: gloves getting shredded. So you keep washing your hands with the pumpkin spice soap J’s wife has in the downstairs bathroom: smells like America, like Ohio, a sweet rural peace. You will go for two more in the remaining hours: a cover of Sebadoh and a Midwestern-gothic slow one. It’s Saturday afternoon by now and the suburbs of Delaware are full of sun: you and your friend of twenty years are bashing out the doom jams in his basement.
She used to keep the blue masking tape used for sealing up the jars of peanut butter and tubes of toothpaste to mail you in the old oak chest in the kitchen full of stationery, tape, Post-its, paperclips, legal pads, padded envelopes, and folders neatly organized with bills and receipts and emergency information, the combination of wood and paper and glue emitting a uniquely sharp yet peaceful perfume, but now she keeps it in the beech cabinet, which has stacks of cookbooks and cloth napkins and dinner party accumulation, in the back of a drawer under some recipes in order to hide it from him, as he was taking it down the basement without bringing it back.
Throughout My Dinner with Andre you doze on and off, providing rest to an upper-back muscle strained and inflamed from cycling and stupidity.
You awaken to various memories.
Andre relays many of his recollections of doing experimental theater with Jerzy Grotowski in Poland. Immediately you recall how you do not like theater, do not believe an interest in theater is at all something you need. That understanding is always accompanied by the memory of falling asleep during the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Romeo and Juliet in 2001. Then, for whatever reason, you recall your cycling route past the Teatr Groteska in Kraków – which has nothing to do with Grotowski, in fact, as it is a puppet theater for children – on your way to class to study Czechoslovakian architecture (e.g., Zlín) and Tadeusz Kantor’s stage sets.
And you fall asleep for a little while.
When you wake up, Andre relates a memory of being in the Polish forest and sobbing in a woman’s arms during an acting exercise with Grotowski’s group. You remember all the walks and bike rides with M in the woods around Borek Wielki: cutting through the small village cemetery and into the birches; the new highway to Rzeszów that runs right through the further woods and fields; the church nearby tolling its bleak bells and that time you stumbled into a funeral procession upon exiting the woods; the small, random, disturbing piles of garbage next to some of the paths; passing village residents leading horses to the fields or pushing 40 year-old bicycles down the dirt road, how you would say good day and they would just stare blankly, unreplying. You think: this is what the Polish forests do to people.
Return to the doze.
You wake up and as Andre says “we’re all bored now,” you hear Frank O’Hara’s words: “Don’t be bored, don’t be lazy, don’t be trivial and don’t be proud. The slightest loss of attention leads to death.” You remember reading Brad Gooch’s biography of O’Hara when you were around 13 years-old, which you had chosen randomly as you developed an interest in poetry. You remember reading that sitting next to Preston in his mother’s car as she drove you all to the Ubatuba beach.
Andre discusses how people talk about leaving New York and never do. A recent memory is accessed of hearing Andre’s spiel, in which living in New York is compared to feeling like you have built your own prison, on a Beats in Space radio set (you forget which one) and emailing A about it. Virtually every friend you have ever had in New York has talked to you about leaving, but they never do. You recall that friends who live in Ohio never talk about leaving.
Andre goes on to cite various theories based around “islands of safety where history can be remembered and the human being can continue to function in order to maintain the species through a dark age.”At this no memories at all come to the fore, and at best your reaction is ambivalent.
Andre speaks again of his memories of the Polish forests and of trying to communicate without words. And this is what Poland does to you: makes you want to communicate without and outside language, inhabit sullen Slavic silences in order to hear the forgottenness wafting through the eastern woods, to pay attention to the memories that cannot be voiced, cannot even be said good day to.
You drift off again.
When you wake up, Andre’s talk has turned to oblivion: “We’re afraid to stay in that place of forgetting, because that again is close to death – like people who are afraid to go to sleep.” You think of your sleep problems, of your parents’ sleep problems, everyone’s sleep problems. Can you remember when your sleep problems developed?
Andre talks of parents, children, aging: “Where is that son?” A wave of what feels like memory comes on, but it is nothing determinate: instead, it is some emotion, it is forgetting as an emotion.
The outro music starts: Satie’s “Gymnopédie No. 1.” Of course you recall first hearing this in The Royal Tenenbaums and how taken aback you were by that scene in Eli Cash’s apartment. Eli Cash was played by Owen Wilson, brother of Luke Wilson, who is also in the scene soundtracked by Satie and who several people have said you resemble. You bought a CD of Satie’s music soon after this first encounter: at Paul’s CDs in Pittsburgh, that’s what you want to say, but no, it may have been at Quonset Hut in Canton or even Borders. A shared recollection is that Satie’s work has become rather trite and overused by now, but his music still moves you, breaks down your defenses. You actually prefer the “Gnossiennes,” especially the first one as it always reminds you of Henry and June, though it was actually the third “Gnossienne” that was used in that film. You remember listening to the “Gymnopédies”and “Gnossiennes” on a bus from the Kraków airport, staring out the window, how you realized the interminable compositional power at work, that those pieces sound best while moving through a familiar landscape made strange by acts of memory.
Wallace finds space and time to enter his own memories as he takes a taxi home: “There wasn’t a street, there wasn’t a building, that wasn’t connected to some memory in my mind.” Can you say that about everywhere you have lived? Or perhaps the better question is: have you lived somewhere about which you cannot say that?
As Wallace looks out the cab windows, eager then stunned, he closes by mentioning his conversation with his girlfriend: “And I told her everything about my dinner with Andre.” You wonder what he told her, how carried off into his own realms of memory he would have been as the dinner conversation flickered through his mind. What more can we say about such experiences and recollections, especially when the ultimate conversation is with one’s forgetting?
The city passes, Satie plays in the background, and you suddenly realize that, in your experience – besides Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó – this is one of the best films to doze off and on to ever. After Andre ventures “where is that son?” and Wallace calls upon his memory, the dark city, the graceful shots, and the “Gymnopédie” all push you gently through a hypnapompic state out of forgetting and into memory, towards the desire to remember these ending scenes and think about them tomorrow, and finally towards the desire for more forgetting and more sleep.
“You know who this reminds me of, your shirt buttoned all the way up like that? Not that I don’t like that shirt, but that totally makes me think of Toby Radloff, you know?”
“Oh yeah, the nerd look? Guess that’s a pretty common connotation.”
“Yeah, Killer Nerd!”
“Well you know who else buttons up? The Iranians. Black suit, white shirt buttoned all the way up, no tie. Austere.”
“I never thought about that, that’s a good observation.”
“Oh yeah? Ok.”