a life-in-progress excerpt,
by Geoff Schutt
The crickets sing in Winter – honest to God they have not disappeared at the coming of this season. They are singing right now, if you listen closely. I know because they stay with me, right outside the windows, and as I lay my head upon a throw pillow, and sleep on a borrowed mattress with a sleeping bag to insulate me, I can hear the crickets singing, no matter that it’s Winter, and with the singing comes their pauses, as if they are like any other singers, needing to take breaths of air between verses, a kind a pausing that both lulls and allows one to appreciate the sound of their music in the first place. It’s actually an orchestra of cricket breathing, and when the singing begins again, it is exactly like summers I used to know, when even at night, nothing really stopped moving. Things were alive, and if I needed sleep, so be it, the crickets would then sing me into this sleep, and then into my dreams, and more often than not, into my cinematic dreams – the stories I told myself like short films, sometimes in black and white and other times in color. It was perfect sleep, meant for the living, and not the dying.
My cinematic dreams have now evolved into part of everyday life, so much so that my lives past and present converge and overlap. It could be a result of the isolation, or any combination of the isolation and shorter days, the bitter cold outdoors and spiraling drafts of gusty cool air inside, and a backdrop of spare, white walls, covered in tiny globs of orange poster fastener, seemingly sprinkled about like stars, left behind when my friend, who so kindly sublet to me this studio apartment, moved downstate. I just haven’t had time to clean these stars from the walls, nor have I found the time to hang up much in the way of decorative arts that could turn the apartment into a home. I don’t want a new home. I already have a home, though it is becoming more distant each day – each day that brings my cinematic dreams into more detail, with long conversations of friends and loved ones, and actual adventures ventured into this great city called Chicago.
It is New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure that a New Year will add anything good to my life. It could be fear talking, this fear that takes hold of me each day, when I honestly don’t know if courage means going forward or giving up – or giving in (is there a difference?). And maybe I like the tiny globs of orange poster fastener left on the walls because they do remind me of stars, and if I can keep the stars inside, the walls aren’t spare at all, but covered with the sky, and my cinematic dreams can then attempt to make sense for me of this place and point the way to the proper definition of courage.
During a cinematic dream, the same night the crickets seem to be singing at their loudest and most beautiful, coming to a crescendo of cricket caroling, a good friend of yours comes to visit you in Chicago, to this small apartment.
Anyhow, here’s the setup. There’s so much space in the studio because you don’t have a lot of things, personal belongings, with you. This is like camping out. You offer the bed to your friend, but he decides his back does better with a surface like the hardwood floors. He’s brought his own blankets, his own sleeping bag even, and what you don’t have, you can get at the store. Nothing fancy. You can visit the dollar store that’s within walking distance, or take the train a couple of stops over and visit the grocery store. You need groceries, that’s for sure. You’ve managed to make the rent through the temp jobs you’ve been working. These aren’t glamorous jobs, but they give you flexibility, and keep expectations low. Nobody thinks a temp is going to set the world on fire. The best temp job you get only lasts a day, at the famous Merchandise Mart. You get to be an administrative assistant to one of the vice presidents. You get to answer her phones, and make copies, and generally, just sit in her regular person’s chair. She’s expecting some big clients, and she needs somebody to sit in the chair and look professional. You have a suit, and you can do this, look professional. (Another temp job you get is for a video game software company. Now here is a dynamic place, like one of the old dot coms, with young people filled with energy and not realizing how good they have it running around, ready to set the world on fire with their latest video game, a violent sort of thing wherein characters like to do backwards somersaults and cut off heads and try out every sort of weapon and generally spill lots of blood. Your job is in data entry. You have a box of video game warranty cards to enter into the computer. Many of these are from six-year-old children in North Carolina or Michigan or Nebraska. These are kids who live in small towns, and they just love the violence and the blood and guts and are asking for more. They love the fighting best of all. Now you just do your job, even through such observations as these, and earn enough for rent and a few groceries.)
You convince yourself that this kind of job purgatory will lead you somewhere, that at the end of the assignment, there will be a revelation.
But time passes. And time keeps passing. And your friend is generous enough to visit to help ring in the New Year. You have no extra money, but you can show him the places you’ve discovered, and together, you’re going to paint Chicago whatever color is in these days for a good time. Your friend fills your refrigerator with groceries. You have enough liquor to really get wasted if you want. And on the night in question, New Year’s Eve, you head downtown to one of the parties that hasn’t yet sold out. So now you’re in this club and both you and your friend are checking out the girls. You convince yourself you will be your friend’s wingman and find him a girl to kiss at midnight, but you are an absolute failure at this - tonight, you just don't have it in you.
The midnight hour is upon you, and passes, though your friend is on his game and convinces a pretty girl to dance with him. The dance lasts long enough that you can snap a photograph. This is New Year’s Eve, so rules are mean to be broken, and people can ask for things like dances from pretty girls they'll never see again, and kisses at midnight.
Soul-searching is pretty hard when you’re isolated not by choice, but by action. Your nature is to be inside one of those video games for the company you did all of the data entry for – to be a fighter and discover how to beat the game, be a winner, get your confidence back, get everything that you can’t put a finger on – the intangible parts of you that are gone – your nature would lead you to getting these parts back.
About an hour after midnight, already into the New Year, a girl who works at the bar comes around and approaches you. You see her coming, and you’re composing words inside your head, but nothing comes out, nor needs to. The girl, who is very attractive, comes right up to you and kisses you on the cheek. And it’s one of the sweetest kisses you’ve ever felt.
Your friend, who is suddenly your wingman, has come through. He has actually offered to pay the girl to kiss you, but she does it out of kindness. And she chooses your cheek, because a kiss on the cheek isn’t a passionate one, is not a kiss of intimacy between lovers, but is instead a kiss of kindness, and most of all - an honest kiss. There's not enough money in the world that can buy an honest kiss. An honest kiss just has to happen, even if by suggestion - but organically too, as if this was part of a master plan far beyond our own comprehension.
Cinematically, it works beautifully, indeed - like a dream, as if it really were a dream, or conversely, really was real. There are fireworks exploding outside. Days after the New Year, when you are alone again in the apartment, people are still setting off leftover fireworks, and when you can't sleep anymore, you just sit up and wonder if the crickets are going to return, or if they've been scared off by the noise, or if they have succumbed to Winter.