Because of John Cusak: a story

 

Because of John Cusack


It was because of John Cusack that I contacted Josie.

I was watching that movie “High Fidelity” (based on the novel of the same name by Nick Hornby) in which John Cusack plays a character named Rob who owns a record store in Chicago and who has made rather a mess of his relationship with his current girlfriend and in an effort to understand what went wrong with his life he looks up five ex-girlfriends, the top five.  I’m not sure if Josie even qualifies as one of my top five ex-girlfriends since we were never really together to begin with. (We never got the chance to get to that point. Our relationship, such as it was, never got passed the hooking up stage. How could it? I was sort of dating my now ex-wife at the time. And Josie was in the process of relocating from Michigan to California for her job. We met at work.) But she was special, I knew that. She was smart and sweet, and I liked talking to her, a lot. I thought talking to her now might offer me some insight into where I’d gone wrong in my life.

I have to admit, though, it was more than that. Because even though our relationship never got passed that initial charged infatuation stage, I was sure that the strong feelings I had for her were genuine. I just never got the chance to tell her how I felt. Like an idiot I let her leave without divulging my true heart to her. I was too scared too. And now, now that I was divorced and truly free to pursue something with her, I guess part of me wondered if it wasn’t possible for us to pick up where we’d left off.

I found Josie on Facebook. It was amazing how little time and effort it actually took. But once I did find her I was suddenly leery about contacting her, recalling how abruptly I’d cut off communication with her. Josie hadn’t left the company that we worked for; she’d only taken a position with a division in California. Even so I figured I’d probably never hear from her again. Or maybe I just hoped that I wouldn’t. You see, by that time my now ex was pregnant with our child. It was not planned. In fact, it happened at a time when we were probably on the verge of going our separate ways. My now ex had found out about my relationship with Josie and we’d broken up but for whatever reason we weren’t done with each other. Thus she got pregnant. Anyway, we decided that we wanted to have the baby and we figured we should at least try to do it together, as a couple. Of course, that turned out to be a mistake. In a way, I knew it was mistake from the beginning (I didn’t really love her) but I didn’t feel as if I had much of a choice, and I thought it was the right thing to do. But as it turned out I did hear from Josie again, although she wasn’t the one who made first contact. I had to contact her for a project that I was working on because she had previously worked on it, before moving to California. I sent her an email. It was professional, all business. She replied in kind, answering my questions. But later she sent another email, a casual one, which essentially left the door open for some kind of friendship. I never responded, because I didn’t feel as if I could, because I knew my now ex would not have approved, would have in fact been pretty pissed. So I just let it go. Josie never sent another email. Because of that I thought she might not be very receptive to a message from me now. In fact, it might piss her off. Even so I could not refrain. I had to at least try. So I did. I sent her message via Facebook, hoping she would friend me. And then I waited.

I’ve done other things in my life because of John Cusack. Well, because of his movies anyway. For example, because of his portrayal of Lloyd Dobbler in “Say Anything” I was, in high school, inspired to stand outside of Debbie Kanacki’s house with a boom box blaring a love song in hopes of winning her heart. I did not; she was mortified and her old man threatened to kick my ass. But that didn’t discourage me from dressing like Martin Blank from Grosse Point Blank – black suite, white shirt, thin black tie – for my ten-year class reunion and telling people that I made my living as an assassin for hire. Some people found it mildly amusing, most didn’t get it, though. I’m not sure why exactly but for some reason I identify with John Cusack. I think of him as my famous doppelganger. We’re approximately the same age and sort of look alike, or so I’ve been told. If a movie was every made of my life, I’d want John Cusack to play me. And I’d want Diane Lane to play the love interest, like in “Must Love Dogs,” because she is a “…rare constellation of attributes.”

When, after a couple of weeks, I didn’t hear from Josie, I figured she just wasn’t interested in communicating with me and I gave up hope of ever hearing from her again. That was that. I’d tried and failed, which was starting to feel like the story of my life. But as soon as I resigned myself she responded. And she was actually glad to hear from me. I was over the moon, filled with a sense of possibility that I assumed had escaped me for good. However, my excitement was soon deflated when I learned that she was married and had a child. That was disappointing, to say the least.

So there was no chance of rekindling any flame that had once existed between us. Fine. That didn’t meant I that I didn’t still want to talk to her. I did. I hoped that by talking to Josie I could gain some perspective on my current circumstances. Also, I was eager to hear Josie’s take on our relationship back then, what it meant to her, because I was sure that she had felt it was special, short-lived perhaps but intense and real. I wanted to be reassured at least that we could have been together had our situations been different.

Unfortunately, Josie was reluctant to discuss such things. She was glad to hear from me and sorry that my marriage had not worked out but she wasn’t really interested in rehashing the past. I told her that I understood, even though secretly I was crushed and wanted to beg her to please reconsider. I did not, though. I swallowed any such impulse.

My restraint was rewarded, however, when a few days after our initial email exchange Josie contacted me and for whatever reason was willing to talk about our past but only under the condition that we talk about it once and only once and then never again. From then on we could be email friends and discuss books or movies or whatever but never again our romantic past. I agreed.

I wanted to know how she remembered our relationship. I wanted to know if it jived with how I remembered it. She said she recalled it as being fun and interesting, that she’d found me smart and funny and enjoyed hanging out with me and talking. I was encouraged because what she said matched my memory of things, generally. But then she said something that profoundly disappointed me. She said that ultimately she hadn’t taken the relationship seriously, that she considered it just a casual fling. In part, because she was moving on and she hadn’t wanted to get to deeply involved with anyone, but also – and this is what really bothered me – that she didn’t consider me to be the kind of guy to get seriously involved with anyway, because, she said, I struck her as the kind of guy that was only interested in sleeping with a lot of different women. She said that wasn’t a judgment on me, just an observation. Even so I couldn’t help feeling hurt. I wasn’t mad at Josie, she was just telling me the truth. But it did make me sad. I was glad that we were not discussing this matter in person, and that she could not witness my dejected reaction.

Despite that I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what she remembered specifically?

What did I mean by specifically?
I didn’t want to lead her in anyway. I wanted her to remember things on her own and my hope was that what she remembered is what I remembered. But clearly she needed a little direction. So I said, Like the day we spent in Arbor. Do you remember that?

Of course, I remember that day. Quite fondly in fact.

Yes. But what do you remember about it?

Well, I remember you coming over to my apartment. And we went and had lunch at that thai restaurant. I remember walking around downtown Ann Arbor holding hands and spending several hours in Borders bookstore. Mostly what I remember though was going out to dinner with my sister and her husband. I remember how proud I felt because I was with this smart, funny, good-looking guy. And I remember later that night back at my apartment giving you really great head.

I of course remembered that too. How could I forget? It was the best blow job I’d ever gotten, before or since. When I came in her mouth I felt as if I was sinking into the floor and out of my physical body. It was amazing, almost transcendent. And I remembered everything she detailed, but there were other things that I remembered that she didn’t mention. Maybe she’d forgotten them or maybe she just didn’t bother to mention them, didn’t consider them important. Maybe she just wanted to get through this exercise and be done with it.

That night in Ann Arbor, I was supposed to be spending the night with my college friend, whose apartment was in Ypsilanti, but instead I drove into Ann Arbor to meet Josie. (This was before my now ex found out about my involvement with Josie.) I went to her apartment. We fooled around in her bed, making out and getting naked. We didn’t have sex. We did everything but. Afterwards, we lay holding each other and I distinctly remember her saying to me, “I’ve got you, I’ve really go you, don’t I.” I didn’t say anything. I just nodded, because I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant by that, but it seemed significant, genuine and true. I’d wanted her to remember that detail specifically, but she hadn’t.

I also wanted her to remember her saying to me – not that night, but another time – that she wanted to have six babies with me. I know, it sounds crazy, but I’m sure she said it. Maybe it was just a wild notion that popped into her head. Maybe she didn’t realize what she was saying it at the time, or didn’t recall saying it now. But I do remember her saying it, because is scared the crap out me, and yet it pleased me a great deal. I wanted the same thing, I just didn’t know that I’d wanted it.

And the other thing I remember was her suggesting that I come to California with her. I actually asked Josie if she recalled saying that, but she didn’t. I believe that just she didn’t remember saying it, but that she actually did say it, I know that she did. Maybe she was the kind of person who just said things carelessly and so forgot about them later.

My romantic construct of my relationship with Josie was slowly eroding. And I didn’t like it. But what could I do. I wanted the truth, as much as that was possible. And I was getting it.

I told Josie that I wished that we’d had sex just once before she’d left, but she was glad that we hadn’t, she thought it was better that way. I disagreed. Maybe it was just one of those things that men and women differ on, fundamentally.

The first time I saw the John Cusack movie “Serendipity” – not in the theater, on cable, late at night while my now ex was fast asleep in our bed – I found myself thinking of Josie. I hadn’t thought of her in years but suddenly there she was in my head again. It was intoxicating, just as our relationship had been. Just like the relationship between John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale in the movie. In the movie the two characters meet serendipitously (thus the title) one night and fall instantly in love but since both are with other people they part, casting their faith in the belief that if they are meant to be together they will somehow meet up again one day. Maybe it’s not a spectacular movie but I was really hooked into it and in the end when the two get together I cried, silently, bitterly. I slept alone on the couch that night.

For a time Josie and I maintained a convivial correspondence, mainly through emailing but every once in awhile we’d chat online. I was enjoying our renewed relationship, such as it was, just having her to talk to was…rejuvenating.  And then out of nowhere Josie asked me if I wanted to meet for a drink. She was going to be in town for business. Of course, I jumped at the offer.

I couldn’t wait to see her. I felt that same giddy excitement that I felt when I first met her. I tried to tell myself that we were meeting as just friends, that this was not some romantic tete-a-tete, because Josie was a married woman with a child, but at the same time I couldn’t help wondering if there might be something more to our get together than just two people having a friendly drink. Maybe there was something specific that Josie wanted – no, needed to tell me face-to-face, something very important.

I arrived at the bar early and grabbed a table. I didn’t want us to have to sit at the bar. I wanted to be able to look at her, right into her eyes when we talked. I wanted to feel that spark, that soulful connection that I remembered.

When she didn’t arrive at the time we’d agreed to meet I didn’t think anything of it. She said she might be running late, because she had a long busy day at work. But then fifteen minutes passed and then a half hour. And then past a point that was reasonable. I wondered if something had happened, something bad. Like a car accident. Because if she was hung up at work wouldn’t she have called? I checked my cell phone even though I knew it was pointless. I would have felt the vibration. Maybe she’d texted me. But no, nothing.

I had another drink and waited.

I don’t know why I didn’t just call her. I mean, I was entitled to know why she was late, wasn’t I? But for some reason I couldn’t make myself dial her number. I guess because I knew what she would say, that she wasn’t coming. This way there was still a chance that she might show up. There was still hope.

I can imagine her entrance, like something out of a movie.

Tracing the grain of the wood table top with my finger, I look up just as she enters. She’s dressed in business attire, a dark skirt and white blouse, but she’s let her strawberry blonde hair down, probably undid it out in the car before coming inside, running her hands through the silky mass several times while checking  her look in the rearview mirror of her rental car. She smiles when our eyes meet, a little coyly, blushing slightly. The world seems to stop as she crosses the room, all eyes focused on her. Finally, she reaches the table and slides into the chair across from me. She beams beautifully at me. And I know that I’ve got her, I’ve really got her.

But of course that didn’t happen. Life isn’t like a movie. I just want it to be.

The ice melts in my glass.

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Another candidate for the X Lit. canon

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

This novel must be GenXerish otherwise why would they cast John Cusack to play the lead in the movie version?

Beyond that it is about a guy in his mid-thirties who is still single and still fucking up his relationships. Also, the main character, Rob, has an encyclopedic knowledge of music. He owns a used record shop in London (that would be in England, not Ontario) which as much a hang out as a place of business.

And, oh yeah, the movie also stars chubby GenX slacker extrordinaire Jack Black. What more do you want?

How about the following quotes:

First, Rob describing him and two misfit employees work-ethic at his record store:

“…I’m proud of us, of the way that, though our talents are small and peculiar, we use them to their best advantage.”

That is the fucking definition of Generation X.

And this too emits an odor of X:

“…Dick and Barry and I agreed that what really matters is what you like, not what you are like…”

I saw the movie first and had never really intended to read the book. I’ve got a big enough reading stack as it is. But I happened across a paperback copy from the Brit publisher Indigo and for some reason I liked th cover better than the whatever the American publisher’s is. I figured I wouldn’t like it much and just toss it aside in order to move onto whatever else I had waiting. But I didn’t. I really liked it. I’m still diggin’ it too. I may have to check out some of his other work as well.

X. Lit: what I’ve been reading…

Finally went back to finish Jennifer Government, Max Barry’s speculative novel about corporations run amok and dominating the world, or at least trying to, but of course the evilness of soulless companies is thwarted, to a degree anyway, by the will of individuals to do good blah blah blah. Not supremely original but a fun and funny read. And definitely an X Lit. novel. I’m curious to read Barry’s more recent novel, Company, described thusly on Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
With broad strokes, Barry once again satirizes corporate America in his third caustic novel (after Jennifer Government). This time, he takes aim at the perennial corporate crime of turning people into cogs in a machine. Recent b-school grad Stephen Jones, a fresh-faced new hire at a Seattle-based holding company called Zephyr, jumps on the fast track to success when he’s immediately promoted from sales assistant to sales rep in Zephyr’s training sales department. “Don’t try to understand the company. Just go with it,” a colleague advises when Jones is flummoxed to learn his team sells training packages to other internal Zephyr departments. But unlike his co-workers, he won’t accept ignorance of his employer’s business, and his unusual display of initiative catapults him into the ranks of senior management, where he discovers the “customer-free” company’s true, sinister raison d’être. The ultracynical management team co-opts Jones with a six-figure salary and blackmail threats, but it’s not long before he throws a wrench into the works. As bitter as break-room coffee, the novel eviscerates demeaning modern management techniques that treat workers as “headcounts.” Though Barry’s primary target is corporate dehumanization, he’s at his funniest lampooning the suits that tread the stage, consumed by the sound and fury of office politics that signify nothing. (Jan.)

The corporate-based novel is not unique to X Lit nor Generation X, but it is a significant part of the X Lit lexicon. Consider novels like jPod and Microserfs by Douglas Coupland and the more recent Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, which I’ve not yet read but based on the amazon description I feel pretty confident citing it:

Amazon Best of the Month Spotlight Title, April 2007: It’s 2001. The dot-com bubble has burst and rolling layoffs have hit an unnamed Chicago advertising firm sending employees into an escalating siege mentality as their numbers dwindle. As a parade of employees depart, bankers boxes filled with their personal effects, those left behind raid their fallen comrades’ offices, sifting through the detritus for the errant desk lamp or Aeron chair. Written with confidence in the tricky-to-pull-off first-person plural, the collective fishbowl perspective of the “we” voice nails the dynamics of cubicle culture–the deadlines, the gossip, the elaborate pranks to break the boredom, the joy of discovering free food in the breakroom. Arch, achingly funny, and surprisingly heartfelt, it’s a view of how your work becomes a symbiotic part of your life. A dysfunctional family of misfits forced together and fondly remembered as it falls apart. Praised as “the Catch-22 of the business world” and “The Office meets Kafka,” I’m happy to report that Joshua Ferris’s brilliant debut lives up to every ounce of pre-publication hype and instantly became one of my favorite books of the year. –Brad Thomas Parsons

No doubt Gen Xers will continue to produce these types of novels. It will be interesting to see how they evolve, as the corporate world changes. And how they compare with the ones that Millennials will no doubt write as well.

I’ve also been reaidng the novel The God of War, by Maris Silver. Set in 1978 about a 12 year old named Ares Ramirez who lives with his mother, Laurel, and little brother, Malcolm, who happens to be autistic, although as Ares narrates they had no name at the time for what he was, made it seem like it could qualify as X Lit. Even more to that point, Ares doesn’t know his father, who is out of the picture. Same goes for Malcom’s. Ares calls his mother by her name and bares much of the responsibility for raising his brother; he also bares the burden for Malcolm’s condition, having dropped him on his head as a baby, although I’m not sure that this is even possible. Anyway, they all live out in the desert near the Salton Sea, which for me echoed Coupland’s novel Generation X. This novel seemed like a sort of Gen X coming of age tale. But I’m having a hard time getting into it, you know. It’s okay, written well and all that. But there’s something about it that doesn’t really give me a chubby, you know. It just seems like a really good MFA project. Still, I’m going to try and stick with it.

That is if I don’t get completely sucked into Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I’ve already seen the movie with John Cusack a couple of times so I don’t know why I snagged a copy of it. But then I started reading it and got hooked, or so it would seem. I want to keep reading. And that’s the real test after all. Besides High Fidelity is very Gen X, dude.

Finally, I’ve been reading this non-fiction book — Against Happiness, by Eric G. Wilson. It is basically an argument against the American maniacal pursuit of utter happiness all the time and how the denial of sadness and melancholia is the true path to hell. Maybe it sounds depressing, but for a GenXer like me it is pure bliss, validating (ugh, I hate that fucking word!) my own melancholia while supporting my theory that too happy people are phonies, and probably not really happy at all, but repressed and afraid to let themselves be sad, worried of what other might think of them — as weak. It’s good stuff.