Update plus fictional dialogue.
The plan is to get on a train at 6 am, run around for the better part of a day, dinner party, Bat for Lashes, flop dead in a hotel, write, get on a plane, then bond. I have a kind of intimidating task that will start in earnest when I get back home on Tuesday, which I hope to finish in time to make another trip on Friday. Just had a nice evening that was cut short in light of exhaustion. So I should be sleeping. Instead, I’ll jot this down.
H: So what about the other other guy?
C: Which? Calvin?
H: No, the Korean dude.
C: No, he’s floating somewhere.
H: So you beat that guy at least.
C: I’m pretty sure I didn’t actually ‘beat him.’ I think that hanging on for dear life actually means that I’m losing.
H: But it’s a war of attrition. Like World War I.
C: It’s actually kind of worse, like, I’ve already lost, but I’m lying bloodied on the ground, and wolves are licking at my bloody wounds.
H: So it’s more like you’re the Nazis in Russia, but it’s after Stalingrad, and you’re getting slaughtered as you slowly limp away.
C: That’s exactly how it is. My leg is actually being gnawed by Stalin right now.
H: It’s so cold that you had to slice open the belly of a wolf and stick your hand in it, like in White Fang. Or maybe it was Call of the Wild. That shit was intense. Particularly for the 6th grade. I had PTSD nightmares for weeks.
C: I think I like this analogy.
H: You just like it because you get to be Hitler.
Six months later, Hector and Chang were facing a more serious dilemma. Their friendship had been based almost exclusively on bullshitting, usually about romantic disasters. But as it turns out the Chang-Amita never reached the anticipated denouement. Things proceeded briskly, and Chang was thus close at hand when Amita was struck by a rare and extremely painful disease that essentially destroyed the cartilage in her face, leaving it a sunken and ghastly caricature of what it had been.
H: I haven’t seen you in a long time. Are you, uh, are classes going okay?
C: I think it’ll be manageable. I just haven’t been in a while, but it’ll be fine.
H: Everything with Ami cool? How were the folks?
C: I’m honestly amazed that she managed to survive 18 years in that house. I would’ve gone on a PCP-fueled rage and just, like, punched them to death. And I’m a pretty mellow dude.
H: You are. Shit. I’m sorry. Like she doesn’t have enough to worry about, right?
C: I have to say, man, I seriously don’t … I pretty clearly can’t handle this. She’s keeping it together a lot better than I’d have figured. Which means I’m basically being an asshole. But I’m basically a kid. We’re, like, twenty years old. She’s probably my second girlfriend in my whole life. And I have this crazy tension in my back. I feel like I’m fifty. Seriously, am I being an asshole?
H: You’ve been incredibly cool about this whole thing. It’s an incredibly shitty situation, dude. I can’t even begin to get what’s up with you, or her. I’d honestly be flipping out if that shit happened to me.
C: I was thinking about the face and how fixated we are on it. Like, my older brother was this really handsome little kid, but he had mildly bad acne. And it basically made him want to kill himself for half of high school. And this of course made me totally obsessed with the same thing.
H: You don’t seem to have any disfiguring acne.
C: No, exactly, I basically became the world’s expert on that shit. I was, like, a crucial medical resource for everyone I knew. I got into homeopathy and I made myself soap from castor oil. It’s how I became down with the hippies. I was completely obsessed.
C: And it’s interesting, because I was obviously drawn to Ami’s face and her amazing enormous nose. I mean, she’s a difficult girl, right?
H: That’s an understatement. I’m pretty sure some cultures worship her as the devil.
C: (Laughs.) She’s a little mean and kind of intolerable. But she had an amazing face, and the meanness was obviously part of her charm. Now, honestly, she looks really scary. That’s a horrible thing to say. But I barely want to be near her. I feel so shitty about it.
H: I mean, the weird thing is that she was always pretty terrible to you. Terrible’s strong, but —
C: No, I mean, that’s probably right. But when something like this happens, there’s no way to not be a victim in this sweeping sense. She can do no wrong in a weird way. And I feel trapped. It’s like The Twilight Zone. I’m being punished for being a shallow asshole.
H: This is intense. I don’t know what to tell you. There’s basically nothing you can do that won’t make you a complete asshole.
C: Well, what’s even worse is that she’s really different now. She’s definitely not being horrible. She’s in this weird panic, like she doesn’t know what anyone thinks of her. And she’s perceptive as shit. I mean, she’s completely expecting me to just, like, drop it. But she’s feeling really, really weak. And it’s like dealing with a little kid.
H: This is bad, dude.
C: This is the first time I’ve felt like I can actually talk about this shit. Honestly, I don’t know how this happened, and how I’m suddenly responsible for another human being. I mean, for the longest time I was like, ‘Hey, I’m just here to get to second base, yo.’
H: (Laughs.) Yeah, you’re not a good human being.
C: I’m incredibly sincere, though.
H: I think you basically have two ways out. You can become a hare krishna or, you know, you can get addicted to black tar heroin.
C: In a deeper sense, I think those are pretty much always the two options, right?
H: I always say choose the heroin, man. That way you don’t have to rock pastel pajamas all day and hand people tchotchkes at the airport.
C: But you know I look fly in my flannels, son.
H: I’m going to bed, dude. But we need to talk more. I mean, whenever you want.
C: Yeah, definitely.
H: So just remember that whatever you do, you’re a kid and, uh, I don’t know. You’re responsible for your own life.
C: I have this weird feeling that if I screw this up — I mean, if I behave like an asshole — that I’m going to die alone. There’s some bad hoodoo about all this, man.
H: Hey. This is the point when I’d give you a hug. But, uh, I think that would be kind of patronizing. And weird.
C: You know what? I could use a hug, bro. I’m not gonna lie.
[They hug awkwardly.]
H: Okay. We never speak of this again. Good night, dude.
Chang went to the computer, checked email, cried for about thirty seconds, and fell asleep while watching Bottle Rocket.