“Do it or don’t. There is nothing else.”
That was good; really clever. He heard it on a bus ride between two friends who were trying not to be quiet. Two sentences that worked so well together just came to him. They belonged there. He could not get past them and really did not want to; he needed them.
It was another personal project for him; another story that he wanted to write… In the same café where he got some of his other work done (rarely this kind of story; no literature). Another good thing…
Too many laptops… He knew about places where you had to have one in order to find a seat. But not here (not yet). He found it too hard not to have a pen or pencil in his hand. At certain times of the year, he could pretend that he was still a student trying to get a little work done (autumn, winter, early spring). Not with the summer; not with grey hairs seeded in his look and no heavy textbook on the table. Here, he often saw others with their work and envied their deadlines and due dates. Here, he was making up his own work with a lot of freedom (too much, maybe).
Those sentences… Where had he heard those lines before? Was it a quote he should be able to place? Again, he was back at the movies. There was not a multiplex, videotape, download or TV show that he could link to and remember. A song? Who really listened to the lyrics if they did not have to? No one he knew did, and he was not a person sharp enough or clever enough to recall such lines. No. Maybe old-fashioned ideas brought them together. Maybe it was a book, magazine or newspaper that struggled in his brain to find the right moment to reappear and try to help. He really did envy all those other deadlines out there.
Is that the reason why he was writing again (those simple lines)? He had some encouragement. Friends, contests and the Internet had been kind to him. One person he knew from his undergraduate days wrote him an email to tell him that he found some of his writing online and really enjoyed it. A person he had not seen in almost a decade wrote to tell him that. There really was no choice but to write. He had to think that there was at least one fan who wanted to see his words on the page.
And there was also his work. He had some luck with his ESL skills and taught a private student once a week. There used to be quite a few of these sessions when he first came to the city. He had posted an ad online telling the entire Internet community that he had taught overseas for several years; that he was a student paying his way through school (still paying, actually); that he could travel to different homes and offices if that was necessary (cafes were preferred); and that his rates were reasonable (far too reasonable, actually). He had had four different contracts at $20 an hour on weekends and Fridays (moved for a change in his course outline to Thursdays), and made enough with them and some grant money to cover his rent and food and still have time to complete a final paper for his degree. Now, he had the paper, the diploma, fewer contracts and one big distraction: the college.
It started as just a little time in their study centre. Students involved with technical studies and document-entry work would come to a room at the back of the library to receive help with their grammar, pronunciation and writing skills (officially, no correction of papers and final presentations were allowed, but still…). He enjoyed the work; the students were happy; the school noticed. And after he graduated from university, the best job offer came from that college. They remembered him, put him back in the learning centre, and considered things. A year later, they gave him what was called a “studio session”. This was a period when students from any discipline or skill level could come in an pose questions. He had been a complete nervous wreck before that first session, carrying with him a folder filled with photocopied material for a well-planned “class”. He did not have to bother with this material. It was clear that the students wanted to take this time and use it to ask very few questions about sentence structure or vocabulary. With plastic store-bought mugs of coffee and half-eaten lunches in front of them, their discussions ranged from how to speak to English girls to the prediction of results for several sports events. For three hours every Friday during a very long and humid summer, he handled their questions with chalk, blackboards, videos, computer downloads and his own wit. And he enjoyed himself as much as the students. For $25/hour, this was a good way to not really work. The college, once again, noticed and kept him in their plans for the autumn. Kevin was given some real classes and the work continued, allowing some long-standing bills to be paid, decent food to be bought and money to be saved. And he still knew that something was not right.
Do it or don’t… He did not really have to imagine too hard to think of why those words were in his head. College teaching did not encourage him to use any skills related to his degree, but that was not the problem. The college alternated between crowded summer schedules and light autumn course plans, but no, that still was not it. He worked schedules that allowed him to leave home earlier in the day and arrive back before rush hour. A good thing most days, but not really enough. No, what was bothering him had nothing to do with work schedules or course plans. It was his life. He had expected to actually have one by now. Where was it?
It was a weeknight, and he thought it would be a safe bet to be at the same café. But no, it was a mistake. Even with the distance from the bars and the nightclubs, the couples were out and active. There was a particular look to the group here tonight. The men were all in baggy or very tight jeans with hooded jackets and sweaters complete with colourful running shoes. No variety there… It was the women who caused the most pain. Now, he had been raised with many female relatives and felt comfortable around women…as friends and relatives. In all those years, he had never learned anything about seduction. There were too many “uncles” around that did not provide any real help. All he had was the conversation overheard from women who could be absolutely heartless about the males in their lives. They seemed to be secondhand boys to them, even the ones described by some of the older women who had plenty of experiences with men and many boys. And he could not make himself noticed when they went on in the kitchen, at picnics, during car rides; anywhere they felt the need to share their comedies and battles. And now it was here in front of him, the same impossible situations with women who would always be ahead of him.
First, the clothes. A scarf here; boots there; handbags and some jewelry everywhere. He never had a chance. And he knew that they would always be out of reach, like a sort of museum piece that he would always admire but could not ever imagine owning, touching or possessing. That was the way it was meant to be, he thought. He saw the men who ended up with these women. All of a type; too cool for anything real and always ready for anything else. The right hair, coats, jackets, shoes, pants. He did remember trying to act like a social anthropologist at a bar; no help, really. He could not figure out how the pairings would end up the way they did. Where did they meet, making some opening gesture to get the link set up?
Link? Set up? Of course, he was thinking about relationships the way he thought about computers: Are things compatible? Are they up to date? Is it time to upgrade?
Do it or don’t…