gregg bordowitz & liza johnson





I finished it even before I went through passport control, really I finished it at JFK. It was in my hand while the man asked me questions, but I had already read the end, in line. When I shut the book, for a minute I was satisfied, or self-satisfied, you might say, because it was a long flight, and I had accomplished that, at least. With nothing left to read, I remained in the ostrich position, burrowing my head into things.

I was no longer “of the moment.”

You used to say, “It must be of the moment.” By which you meant immediate—historically now. I don’t know how to say that in French. You could look, but not straight at it, you know? Oh, believe me, if I knew what direction to look… It can be, but it isn’t always fun to be wandering.

The last time I wasn’t of the moment it wasn’t fun and it took forever. An era, really. It was like when I dated that historian. (You haven’t met, so stop looking at me like that.) You should see a roomful of them—when they get together—whew! It’s not really like being in a room full of psychoanalysts, except fashion-wise. I’m not saying you should try it.

This was before you really got into embracing the notion that there is nothing to know, I think. Maybe it was after. I don’t know, it’s not like I make a secret mark on the calendar when that happens—you getting into a notion. I remember you once, not all shoes and haircut, a person of substance, and there was a light wind, and everything cloudless, and you made an observation vigorously, but with many casual qualifiers—like yeah and dude and sorta and there’s a way in which—as if to soften, or to make contingent, or to make sure no one thought that you thought you were better than they were while you spouted: “Yeah, there’s a trip to be made, sure there are feelings to be felt.” Then letting it show—you weren’t kidding, man.

I never did think you were kidding. “There are experiences to be had, there are intensities.” Etcetera. That’s how you were then. Nothing to know, there’s no point to it. Could have been a kind of nihilism. Or it could be, like, you know, Zen—to teach from a place of not knowing.

That’s either deep or you’re going to get me fired.

They won’t fire you. You’re so qualified and you’ve been in therapy for fifteen years! What other credentials do you need to teach the concept of failing?

Well, perhaps not that fact alone. There is also “equivalent experience.” But yes, I’ve read a lot of books. I’m becoming like that teacher you had, the one who gave you a serious infection. Remember that? He was an insurance salesman all his life, and he taught Marx. Central casting: insurance salesman. He’d be your guy. Insurance, when you think about it, is the metaphor to explain everything. Plus, back then, it was still that part of the Eighties that was still a part of the Seventies. The Cold War was still on. There was still a Marxy kind of sexy. And I had all the right parts for that trick. Philosophers descend from magicians, you know. It still gets me hot. I mean, not him with that beard, but the fact that a very small number live well off way more than lots of people in the world. Value is never returned to the laborer. I mean, that’s not what makes me hot. Wow. That’s not what I meant to say at all.

Please, go back to the roomful of historians and shrinks. I can’t bear to do it myself—and ask them if that’s a slip or just a syntactical error. Well, I feel a little bit awkward now, a little bit out of it, and I don’t just mean in the fashion world. There actually is a history to those feelings.

Oh shut up! There is no longer any such thing as a novel of manners. Just marry me.

Oh, my dearest, my most foolish tool, I’m sorry to speak to you this way, but please do note: It’s all voluntarism at this point. If you are left at the altar, you will still have your own health plan. Probably. You’re not in it for the money. Now it’s all about being a waitress or a typesetter or a champion boxer. Or a nurse. A nurse is good. And it’s about how the man gets people to fight against each other. Race divides. It’s a blue-collar movie. RuPaul Schrader. TV doesn’t exist anymore, either, even though I keep paying for it. But it’s gone, so don’t try to dignify it.

Listen to me. I’m a teacher who comes in and talks off the cuff. We all have the potential to be our worst, and I am living proof. I confess. I don’t prepare. I don’t.

Yours is a studied nonchalance. I studied it, too, back in school. My research revealed that it’s only real in California, regionally, and then only sometimes. Other times it is just a tic. And occasionally in straight guys. The rest of us are more chalant. I offered a course in it once. Hardly anyone signed up. The actresses, when they parade before you, are at the height of blasé knowledge, the top of the field. Do not underestimate a very measured relationship to the T-shirt. They have the same thing on for all the callbacks. That’s how you can tell they’re giving you their A-game, nonchalance-wise.

You traffic in the currency of someone else up to date. You can represent the current conversation. You act it out. You mime it. Sounds like. Two syllables. And then you gesture awkwardly, as if you had your foot stuck in a trap and people shout out guesses, possibilities. I can’t even claim to have the patience anymore. I just call the Nineteenth Century hotline every six weeks. They are very nice there, and get down the books to tell me what Lincoln said about God.

Whose side was he on? His, hers doesn’t matter anymore. You have already said that you gave up on that kind of knowledge.

Does knowledge come in kinds? If so, be kind.

Only cruelty and I don’t want to take you down with me! I mean, I say that, but I am fishing. Could be you or anyone, I’d like to hear it, hear someone say, “Take me, babe.”

Keep that apple to yourself!

There are only two ways to go from here, and one of them is down. To do it right, your little notion. With that attitude, you’d have to be on a mountain, waiting for someone to come to you with a question. Slipping from being a teacher to a kind of spiritual leader. Like off a rock. It’s frightening and not hard. Wonderfully easy, in fact.

For example, consider Belgrade, there and hiding the very same beard. Fashion often doesn’t translate geographically or spiritually. Sometimes it’s a caftan, patchouli, sometimes it’s sweatpants and Nikes. Vogue described the rogue as Genocidal, but Santa-ish. But here’s my point: if he has not proved it, then I don’t know what could prove that everybody wants a spiritual leader. Everyone wants to be taught. I am not saying you’re a maniac.

We’re all a captive audience.

Thanks for the reminder. I forget sometimes that someone is trying to comprehend. And it’s me. It took me a long time to learn to let the patient have the realization and not to tell the patient what the realization was. Because people rob you by getting there first and naming it.

I think you mean that you rob them. But we agree that somebody is getting robbed.

You rely on the fact that influence is direct and then it isn’t. Not straight from A to B to C. Until one time it is, and suddenly you’re like, oh shit, I didn’t mean to put you at C.

Give yourself a break.

When I think of her trying to parallel park, using skills she will probably never really possess… She probably sunburns and doesn’t wax. In countless other ways, she can’t catch on. Her mom was, like, no way. She probably did know best, her mom, but by then she was already on the plane, looking down on the Rockies, halfway to C, where I sent her by accident.

There are no accidents. Recall that one guy who forced his student to be a carpenter. And then another one was sent to teach, so that he would be spared the doubts of the master that he wasn’t anyway. Love is asymmetrical.

With you it’s always trippy, philosophical sleights of hand, and otherwise. Unlicensed therapist type of stuff. May I remind you, therefore, that your job is to ask me primary things. What about my childhood? And how does that make me feel? Breast-feeding and such.

What you’re not supposed to do is break the frame, to tell me how much you’re benching, or name what movie star you like—for these tasks I have both friends and enemies. We should be special, more mercenary. If, as I suspect, our whole conversation happens under a giant picture of your father, though I cannot see behind you without sitting up a little, then let’s just say it out loud: you’re starting to look like my old boss coming in every day, pink-faced, tweedy, literally hauling his dad’s old handbag. One could find him out by praising the beauty of its dignified worn leather, its finely crafted handles. I might have tried a bit to hide its origins if it were mine. But it never is.

The handbag was too much for me, as if the mixed blessing of parentage was a prize. You can’t really freelance as a shrink; it’s not a unilateral occupation. It wasn’t the nature of our commitment to do what he wanted, to replace scorn with transcending empathy. His father, the one with the handbag, had invented empathy. I’m not kidding. But it didn’t catch on, obviously, as a practice. No. Our strife was our only drama and we needed that.

Did I know that then? If that’s the case, then I have no one to blame but myself, flapping around here on your couch. You get what you pay for, I guess. Given that, I kind of roll with it. I just lie here, talking while you keep texting.

Look, nobody’s making you do this. All I expect is coincidence. We are not feeling the same thing and we’re not feeling it at the same time.

Can’t you see that I’m really dangerous?

Play the realist for me, baby. Say, “Oh yes, that’s nice.” You know, Realpolitik. That’s with a kay. Any time someone trumps you by getting to reality before you do, that’s annoying.

Now it’s your turn to show your contempt. You hate the avant-garde, but not as much as they hate you. You hate the underdogs. And you presume that other people are stupid.

Some people marshal quotation the way others marshal reality.

That’s another one of your conversation-stoppers: There’s nothing to know.

It’s good when you scrunch your eyebrows like that. Watch me. See? You make quotation marks with your eyebrows.

Yeah, that was a good one. Maybe that’s the sign we should get married after all. There’s still six days for us in California—I could still make you an honest woman. I wish I could say that I also love you, in Massachusetts or Connecticut. But people need boundaries.

Trust me.

Hawaii, maybe.