why?

I don’t have much time. Maybe half an hour. I have to leave soon. I know you are busy.

I said before that I was sad and you were sad and the rest of whole damned world was sad.

Well why it is? Why are we so sad in the middle of a world where I can eat Thai food in a Confederate city and listen to jazz while I hunt for deer in a Louisiana swamp? I can do anything I want to – right in the palm of my hand, and for cheap. Why in the world would anyone be sad?

In the middle of all this opportunity I simply find no meaning. Oh it’s all nice and wonderful. Let’s be really clear about that. I enjoyed that nice dinner we had last week, and I’m quite proud of my collection of jazz records and French films. But sometimes I walk through my house and look at all that I have and really start to think why anyone would give a shit.

And it makes me down and blue to think that we have all of this and we see that it’s not worth anything.

And then my wife dies of cancer, before we can even bring a child into the world, and your waitress girlfriend runs off with a half-assed photographer, and then we’re both alone and living in empty houses and eating dinner by ourselves. No sleep. No sex. Just a house full of records and films and old photographs and we can’t remember what joy used to mean.

I have a vague recollection.

Joy was Christmas Eve, wearing a thick sweater and shuffling into the cathedral from the cold. All was hushed and the candles were lit and the organ was loud and even my grandfather, the stoic from Vicksburg, was gayly singing “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

We would go home late at night in complete peace, full of love.

And now we are older, so much wiser and we have forgotten all of this and we are alone and sad.

Tell me more. What is it you do – daily, I mean, now that she is gone?

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white aprons and grease stains

She left you. This much is clear. She is gone. Is she gone for good, as in another city? Or is she gone from your circle but still around, waiting tables somewhere else and trying to forget you at Communion every other Sunday?

Still here, then. I suppose you should be careful where you go. The last thing you want is to meet your friends for drinks on a Saturday night and have her walk past the bar, hair pulled back and makeup perfect, smelling like the last time her head was on your pillow. No, that is the last thing. Avoid it.

She left because you would not commit. Of course I can sympathize. You never have. You never could. You’re somewhere else.

What’s that? You’re sad? Of course you’re sad. I’m sad, too. Really fucking sad.

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wine and salt water.

I’m sorry for leaving like that. Really, I am. What were we talking about anyway? God, it’s been how long? Six months since our last coffee and cigarettes. I’m sorry, again. Very sorry.

That waitress isn’t here anymore. She was with you for how long? Four, five months? She left last week? Jesus, no wonder you look like hell.
Where was I? I was gone. I left after a week and drove to the coast – the Gulf – and I sat in a little beach house, one that had probably been there since the 50s and I ate crawfish and I watched the tide come in every afternoon and drink a bottle of wine every day. Every single day.
Of course I did it to forget. She is gone and not gone like your waitress, angry because you went to one too many football games, but gone forever. I watched her disappear for months with that damned cancer and now that everything is settled all I could do was leave. Of course that’s why I was so angry, so caustic the last time I saw you.

And I am sorry. So let’s talk about your waitress.

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Return.

Welcome back.

God, it’s been too long.

Where did you go? To the coast? I went myself, but not the Gulf coast. I was on the Atlantic – Annapolis, to be exact, and then over to St. Michael’s Island.

And you were in South Walton County? God, it’s beautiful there.

So what did you find?

How was she, the waitress?

Let me guess – you’re not seeing her anymore, are you? That’s why she hasn’t been here at the resaurant for two weeks.

Hang on – oh, shit. I have to go.

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take me off the list – i don’t want to be missed.

Good to see you again.

God, I can’t stand this heat. How do you manage?

You know, everyone gets so excited when the weather turns warm, but it’s March, for heaven’s sake. You and I both know what happens when it hits eighty degrees in March.

That’s right. A tornado.

I can see dark clouds already.

So how was your week?

Now don’t tell me that you’re still mad. You really don’t have any reason to be mad. None at all. I was just posing a question. I think you’re on a journey. A search. You’re looking for something. I just want to know what it is you’re looking for.

You don’t know?

That’s alright. I didn’t either. For the longest time, I didn’t know. I was aware that the malaise had crept up on me and morning noon and night all I knew was sadness. You remember what it was like. You were there. It was awful. I never stopped going to class, but I slept as late as I could. I went back to bed when I get home in the afternoon. I never went out. That was the malaise, alright, taking Nyquil on a Friday night before ten o’clock, just so I could fall asleep.

It was the worst on my birthday. Of course you remember that. I had dinner with my family and then came back to our place. The malaise was with me, like it always was and I didn’t care about a birthday. How old was I that year? Twenty-four. A graduate student with no direction. The malaise was heavy, hanging over me like New Orleans humidity. And I could barely take it. So I went to bed and when nine o’clock rolled around and you walked in with a dozen people eager to wish me well, I pretended to be sick and sent everyone away. That was a sickness of a different sort that I could tell friends – kind gentlemen and beautiful women – to go away so that I could be alone in a dark room on an October night with a bottle of Jim Beam under the bed, and smoking cigarettes in the bathroom with the vent on so we wouldn’t lose our deposit.

Go ahead and laugh. It’s ok. I don’t mind. It was pretty damned pathetic when you think about it.

Oh, there’s that waitress again. She’s looking at you. You don’t think so? You’re going to have to find out sooner or later..

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a stillness at appomattox

Let me tell you more about the malaise. It is a sickness, you know. It sinks in on a Thursday night after two Sazeracs and a couple of American Spirits and you drive home to an empty house. It takes permanent root when you read three Bruce Catton books and drive through an old town like Selma and you know that you lost, and you lost bad. Now I know that you’re tired of hearing me talk about this – no! Listen to me. This is very, very important. You say it’s the twenty-first century and it’s high-time to move past the Civil War and the Reconstruction and an obsession with wool suits and thick beards but to hell with that. This is important. You have to listen to me. I’m on to something.

I’m sad and you’re sad and we’re all sad because it’s over. The war is over long ago and we’re still living with it. What do I mean? You know damn well what I mean. I mean we drive out to these small towns that haven’t had significance since 1859 and wear high-dollar oxfords and talk about football and sip bourbon but we wouldn’t dare live there. If William Faulkner was one neighbor and Shelby Foote the other and the honorable Stonewall Jackson himself were mayor, we would still pack up our bags and head for a dull apartment building somewhere in Marietta. I would and you would and we would take our women with us, because we can’t bear to live there. It is too much for us, because it reminds us of how our forefathers lived in the Deep South and swatted flies on the wide front porch and heard the dragonflies buzzing at sunset over a Mississippi swamp. We hear it all at night and remember that our great-great-great grandfathers lost and lost in a miserable fashion before it was all over. So we live in the New South – in an apartment that looks like a sterile progressive prison – all because to do otherwise would cause us to remember. And, by God, we want to forget.

But the malaise tracks us down anyway, because we know that even though they lost, at least they fought. We don’t fight. The best we can manage is a good hunting trip, but we weren’t brave enough to join the army. That was for the rednecks in high school, the dead end kids with nothing left to lose. That wasn’t for us – we had bigger plans and we were going to hold Congressional hearings and reform the banking industry but we are miserable. Utterly miserable and there is practically nothing we can do about it except run a marathon or move to Alaska in hopes of finding our sorry selves. Movement is a sign of the malaise, but it is not a guarantee that one is aware that one has it. Are you aware? I don’t know that you are. Now don’t give me that look because we’ve known each other for a long time, you and I. A long time, indeed, and I’m not sure that you know you have it. You are always on the move chasing rock bands around and planning hiking trips out in the damn cold Rocky Mountains, but I think you really believe that you do all that just for the fun of it. And you’re completely delusional to think that. Oh relax, don’t be so offended. You’re just sadly mistaken, old boy, to think that you do all that just because you love the snow in the mountains in January. You do, of course, but more than that deep down there is part of you – maybe even all of you – that is busy fighting off the sickness by going on a search for – well, what are you searching for?

Now don’t get mad, dammit. I’m trying to make a point.

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war is over.

Good to see you. Grab a seat.

What a mess outside. You’re not wet – must be that jacket you’re wearing. I’ve ordered one like it. No, mine is a different color than yours, but we don’t get together all that much, so it’s not like we’re going to be seen out looking like twins.

You’re staring at the waitress again. She’s always here on these mornings. One of these days you’re going to have to get her number and call her up for dinner. She seems friendly enough. I think she’s a student. We’re not that old – you wouldn’t be a creep to take her out sometime.

How am I? Fine, I suppose. This weather has me all out of sorts, like I suppose it has done to you. Everyone is fine at my house. The usual January sickness, but no real disorders to speak of.

Did you read that article I sent you? The one about the internet making us sad? God isn’t it true? I remember when we were in graduate school and all of these websites began popping up. They were a lot of fun – you could now find out if the girl in your speech class was single or what her favorite band was. You found out that guy in early 20th century literature class was a Deadhead. The lynchpin in the whole thing was the photo album. Pictures of you and your friends at concerts, at parties, at bars, at the beach. But that became the problem, didn’t it? Do you remember how awful it was?

Maybe not for you. It was for me.

I’ll tell you why, and it’s just like that article I sent you says. Everyone in those pictures was smiling and happy. Shiny happy people. Everyone looks so damned pleasant and when you see those pictures on your laptop at two in the morning, it’s just depressing. Why didn’t anyone post pictures that looked sad? That looked real? They did, you remember, but they were usually poses. And poses don’t count.

The pictures made us sad even when we were home from a great night out with friends. I think a psychologist would tell us that we’re bombarded by images and so then we want to be part of those images. When we can’t, we feel sad. That’s exactly how I felt then. I still do. Don’t you?

You don’t?

You liar. Of course you feel sad.

You feel so sad that you rush back out to another bar with all of our old crowd and take more pictures and two days later you and them and maybe me are posted all over the internet, arms linked and glass raised so the whole world can see our shiny happy faces.

The hell with it, you know? Where is our sadness? Where is our malaise? I want it back.

I want back that malaise that says the old order is gone and we’re better for it but I’m sad about it anyway. I want the comfort of broken chinos and washed oxfords in the humid South soaking bourbon on a Saturday afternoon and reliving glory days in Tuscaloosa and Oxford and Athens because the rest of the world still think we’re defeated but at least we can look great and whip someone on the field come September. That’s what I want. I don’t want a smiling face on the internet. I want the search and struggle. I want Robert E. Lee and true gentleman and a bevy of fine Southern ladies, not a bunch of smiling ninnies on the internet. Let’s fight for it. Will you join me?

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