Commentary #18 (of 28): PAYING THE TAB

commentary-picEvery so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.


And here we are on St. Patrick’s Day in 2003:

Somewhere in the course of the evening, my stupid brain managed to convince my terrible body that it was indeed a Friday night and not a Monday night. And so I accepted all of the beer that was handed to me and ignored the clocks with the unperturbed philosophy that I rarely enjoy outside of the weekend. The beer was dark and the music was loud, there was folly everywhere and you didn’t have to squint your eyes to notice it. Nudity and spilled beers in every direction: it was St. Patrick’s Day after all.

The war in Iraq was getting ready to start, and as stated in the story, the President had gone on television that night to set the 48 hour deadline. It was a frustrating time for a variety of reasons, but a lot of it had to do with the helplessness of it all, as it clearly felt – to me anyway – that the country was preparing to move in a direction it didn’t need to go.

The old man dressed as a leprechaun screaming at the television is true.

This was an interesting day for me. I had left work from St. Petersburg a little earlier to get across the Bay to get home in South Tampa where the St. Patrick’s Day festivities were already underway. In order to do this, I had to ride my motorcycle through one of those intense, apocalyptic thunderstorms that we have in Florida every afternoon and last only about 20 minutes. The only reason I was in a hurry was because my parents had decided to meet me at McDinton’s Irish Pub for dinner.

When I got home and dried off, I checked my email to discover that the teaching job in Poland I had applied for was probably mine if I wanted it. I remember sitting at my desk and staring at the computer screen in disbelief.

I had returned from an amazing week trip to London and Paris a couple of weeks earlier (which is covered later in the book) and decided that I was going to move to Europe before I was 30, and this job offer had suddenly made the decision tangible.

I decided I wasn’t going to tell anyone out of fear of jinxing it, but after a couple of beers over dinner with my parents, I told them what was happening. I said, “They won’t make a final decision until June, but as of now, it’s mine. And they said I need to start making the arrangements and taking care of the paperwork.”

My parents, particularly my father who was feeling the Guinness, were amazingly supportive. However, as the months progressed and the move date came closer and closer, I could tell that my decision was breaking their hearts. Still, their support never wavered.

So anyway, there I was a couple of hours later at the Dubliner with more beer in my stomach and staring at the President on the television and clearly thinking, I’m going to leave this behind. Wherever this war goes, whatever happens to my country now, I won’t be around to see it through.

The flashback takes place in November of 2002. If you’ve read the book this far, I’m confident you can put some of the pieces together to figure out who the girl is.

A prophet says be with the ones you love and the world will sort itself out. It’s good advice, but all I’m seeing are a bunch of people too afraid to love. The clock pushes closer to midnight and they’re afraid of rejection. Two pounds of anthrax with the potential of killing one-hundred thousand people, dirty bombs, mutant flues, 2+2=5 written on the walls, a collapsing economy…and you’re sitting there still afraid of a two-lettered word.

It’s NO, by the way. And how often can one use an Orwell reference?

And this marks Tony’s second appearance in the book after “$24.99”.

Americans aren’t good with uncertainty. Not that it matters anymore, because the Gen-Xers are going to have to deal with it whether they want to or not. We are the first generation truly heading into the unknown and to make matters worst, the rules are being written and scrapped as we go by people who won’t be around to see the results. You can’t make heads or tails out of anything; there’s no trust anymore.

I’ve gotten a little grief over the “first generation truly heading into the unknown” comment, as it gives our generation a lot more self-importance than it probably deserves. However, I still think it’s true. I know every generation deals with uncertainty, but I’m confident not at the level we’re experiencing. We live in an age of turb0-history; the accelerated nature of technology and ideas and all of the consequences that come with it is problematic, and with every day feeling more and more like a science-fiction movie – a bad one at that – I think the uncertainty of tomorrow is heavier than it’s ever been.

With that said, it works both ways. Tomorrow can bring us something as beautiful and glorious as it could horrifying and dangerous.

While Jack’s name was changed, he was in fact a male pornstar. The stories he’d tell would do the exact opposite of what porn was intended to do.

I like the ending of this story a lot. I try to be very careful about how I arrange my stories as I write them, and the endings are always so important to me. There is nothing like a great ending, especially one that stays with you, that manages to infect you with a certain feeling. I’m not saying this one does, but I’m proud of how this one ends.

NEXT WEEK: “Father Groove”

Previous commentaries:Commentary Cover

#1 “Cowboys and Indians”
#2 “Little Conundrums”
#2.5 “Playing With the Dead”**
#3 “The Illusion of Swing”
#4 “Kicking Love’s Ass”
#5 “On Being Velma-less”
#6 “Muted Porn”
#7 “Defying Gravity”
#8 “The Fifth Ocean”
#9 “One Dead (Potted) Plant”
#10 “Remembering Drajra”
#10.5 “Masks”
#11 “Pancakes, Wishes and Other Tales”
#12 “Maintaining”
#13 “Before Waking”
#14 “Re:Flux”
#15 “This is Not for You”
#16 “The Mariachi”
#17 “$24.99”