The place smells the same. Garlic, undergraduate angst, oven flame. The menu hasn’t changed. The Antony and Cleopatra. Italian sausage and snake meat. The Macbeth. Cooked in a cauldron. Blood sauce won’t wash off. The Julius Caesar. Served bottom side up. You have to knife it from the back. The Timon of Athens. Only bitter, separate ingredients, overcooked to black. The Frankenstein. Assembled from ingredients at hand. Served smoking from a jolt of high voltage. The Tragic Irony. It’s a surprise. Everyone at your table knows what you’re getting while you cover your eyes.
You said tragedy means playing out a ****** hand. The game has to end badly. Bigger Thomas. Joe Christmas. Hamlet. Everybody died. No choices. The end. I said, no, it means you have a fatal flaw. Macbeth and Ted Kennedy—ruthless ambition. Gatsby—pride. Lear—vanity. Richard Nixon—douchebaggery, deep-fried. Bad choices.
“Can’t be both,” you said. “One is character, the other one’s fate.” “What if character is fate?” I asked smugly. “Then we’re *******, Heraclitus. It’s late.”
I smoked a pipe. You wore a beret and severely bobbed hair. I wrote sarcastic love letters to the universe. You wrote hate lyrics to Ted Hughes, love notes to Jane Eyre. We kept relations on an intellectual plane. You had a set of big firm ideas, dark-eyed principles, and a dimpled scorn of life’s surly ****. My eloquence was tall, square-jawed, curly, tan. Together we solved the world’s big problems as only undergraduates can.
“Can pizza be tragic; or is it merely postponed farce?” I wondered. “Here it is clearly both, though not at the same time,” you said. “Does tragedy plus time equal comedy?” “Sounds right.” “No, tragedy plus time is any order in this place on a Saturday night.” After what seems like decades our orders finally arrive.
“What did you get?” I asked. “Looks like the Double Tragic,” you replied. “Flawed choices and fate. I leave you. You were unfaithful to every love sonnet you ever wrote. Yet you are the first man who makes me feel loved, the only one who ever will. I strain for that feeling again and again but it becomes a boulder that keeps rolling back down the hill. And fate—my beautiful ******* that got so much attention from men will **** me. The only thing they will ever nurse is a cancerous seed. You?”
“The Too-Many-Choices, done to perfection. Choosing everything means choosing nothing. Loving too many women, I love none. I follow a simple path home but try to stay lost. Living in the space between lost and found has a cost. My life becomes a solitary pilgrimage to no place.”
“Let’s not reduce our lives to a Harry Chapin song,” we agreed. So we toasted the beauty of what never was. I went back to my hotel to write, found my way to a few easy truths, and called it a night.