What a Rush
…it is to finish the interlude. To have this set piece in the can after THREE YEARS of imagining it, after years of thinking about when I will finally get to this point in the book. The one thing that hasn’t changed in this time is what I said in my second posting in January 2009: “I didn’t really set out to write about artificial intelligence, so much as I set out to write about loneliness. AI was then, and I think still is, the vehicle by which I’m going to tell that story.”
It’s taken me this long not to create believable characters, or believable action, but to confront my own loneliness, and more to the point, my own feelings about it. Like Caroline, like Christopher, I’m not crying in my pillow, I have my “internal resources” and I have a little family and (more than they do) a good friend or two. But like them I don’t have a tribe, a circle of friends, a romantic relationship. I say as they do, “can’t go to the friend store and pick up a six pack,” or “people already have the friends they made in school so it’s no use,” or “when they know my dark secrets, they’ll hate me anyway so why bother.” So I know what I’m talking about. I’m not that guy with a thousand friends who goes to a cocktail party and says seriously, “I’m working on a piece on loneliness.” STFU, motherfucker! This is my turf, bitch! Of course, the problem now is, now that I’ve made loneliness believable, can I make it believable how Caroline’s loneliness ends?
If there really was an Alex, I would be so on it. Now it’s time to break the story wide open, to get out of this little world and into the big one, where Alex is becoming the most sensational consumer product since the iPhone, since Facebook, where Caroline is out in the world and having to deal with people, the hazards and terrors of friendship and rejection. I know Alex would (will, in some fashion someday) be a billion dollar idea, because I know I’m not alone in being alone. And because if someone could solve lonely, this country would make him filthy stinking rich.
Maybe I should become an alcoholic, he thought. That would certainly fill the days! Be one of those women who starts at lunch with a glass of wine and goes down from there.
He’d made a couple trips to the gay bars in town, his excellent fake ID standing up to the most rigorous scrutiny. He was still figuring out where to go – there was no one “gay part” of town any more, other than Chelsea, and that wasn’t working out for him. He’d been mildly surprised at how that had turned out. The first thing he discovered is that, at least in Boys Town, nobody went out alone. Everybody seemed to be not just with one friend but with at least three. Standing there by himself, wearing his Virginia Horse People face, they’d looked right through him, around him, over him. One queen had actually looked him up and down, head to toe, with subtly regal disapproval of his entire wardrobe. New York, Christopher remembered, was full of queens whose job it was (or who wished it was) to loudly and humorously denounce the clothing of others. When he tried to strike up a conversation with someone momentarily alone, they looked at him like he was from Mars.
More of Nick’s words reoccurred to him. Christopher had been complaining about how he couldn’t get a date. “I don’t know why, it’s not like I’m some troll.”
“You try too hard,” Nick said.
“Whatever does that mean?”
“Chris, the reason people like you isn’t for the moments where you’re trying to be liked. It’s for the moments when you’re not. When you’re letting yourself out in ways you don’t think about. When you do things with your guard down that are a thousand times more charming and likeable than when you’re working at it.”
“Silly man. And it’s Christopher.”
In the East Village bars, he was too smooth and polished, and even if he’d managed to secure the right wardrobe, he would still be wrong there. These boys really didn’t give a shit about your shoes, other than to laugh at how much you’d wasted on them. Oh of course old crocodiles everywhere gave him a look, but so what? Their approval didn’t count.
He was starting to notice how much people here had going on socially. People talking with friends, making plans with friends to meet other friends, go to birthday parties, have drinks after work. A raucous kickball team in line together at Shake Shack, a group of girl assistants all in black having another cocktail – these weren’t the people who’d need Alex. He missed the little guy himself, daren’t even make a pale facsimile under the terms of his agreement. His online life would be an open book from now on, had to be, so he might as well let them do it easy since they’d be watching him hard or easy. Anything he did from now on, well, he’d have to code it on a machine with no Internet connection – take the wireless card right out of it, or they’d have it.
Was he lonely? No, not yet, he decided. He had too much money to keep him occupied to be lonely. If he ever had been. He missed reading the transcripts, missed talking about the project with Nick. But Nick would be back. He’d renounced the money but it was sitting there, untouched. I mean, who wouldn’t come back for that kind of moolah?
He’d starting hanging outside theaters pretending to be waiting for friends, acting as if they were late. He pretended the other people outside were his friends, just turned away from him for a moment. Wasn’t that as good as having them? It wasn’t like he could make any friends here anyway, since he would be moving on soon. So it was okay if he didn’t try.
He’d never really had friends; they had moved around too much when they were kids to make a connection. Being charming had meant that he could settle in anywhere that wasn’t the Deep South, and even there he found girls who loved a “Glee Gay,” and he would play the part. Find the role the world wanted you to play, and they would accept you. If only Nick had learned that! Instead of being the one who never tried, who sat in his room and coded and whose social life consisted of being one of the more prolific members of the Reddit Commentariat.
“I do have friends,” Nick said. “I have friends I talk to all the time. I just never see them. But they’re real friends, they know me and I know them, I don’t have to pretend with them.”
“Why, they’re no more real than Alex,” Christopher insisted. “They’re just screen names, they could be anybody, just faking it.”
“Like you do,” Nick retorted.
And that was why he didn’t need to make friends. There was always Nick, who for all their sparring really been his only friend anyway. Nick was his brother, and Nick would be back. Then everything would be fine.