Authors: Tao Lin
“Polar bear,” Andrew says. “Is that what you want?”
The bear stares at Andrew.
Still staring at Andrew goes to Andrew’s desk and picks up a CD case.
Looks at the CD case, looks at Andrew, puts the CD case back.
“Put it back,” Andrew says. “Oh, okay.”
“I just put it back,” the bear says.
“I need to get something,” the bear says.
The bear goes downstairs and comes back with a sledgehammer.
The bear smashes a hole in the floor with the sledgehammer.
The bear looks at Andrew.
The bear feigns jumping into the hole
The bear hops and disappears in the air.
Andrew goes to his window.
The bear is running across the neighbor’s
The bear jumps over a row of bushes and falls on the grass.
Smashes the bushes with the sledgehammer.
Changes into a truck and drives over the bushes.
Changes back into a bear.
Smashes a tree with the sledgehammer and screams.
Reappears next to Andrew and hugs Andrew.
“I’m sad,” the bear says. “Give me advice.”
“I don’t know. Go to Japan,” Andrew says.
“It’s morning in Japan.”
“Where in Japan?”
“A house,” Andrew says.
“A house. What city?”
“A house by a river,” Andrew says
“Okay,” the bear says, and disappears.
Andrew goes to his bed.
He covers himself with the blanket.
Puts his face in the pillow.
Spring break. She came to Florida. She
drew genitals on Jhumpa Lahiri’s face. Duane Reade. She was like,
. The guy was like,
They sat on separate branches. He should have moved closer. He was too depressed. He is always too depressed. Should’ve been happier and laughing. He forgot to be happy. He was too bored to be happy.
Your Popsicle looks disorientated
. Sara, laughing. Should have hopped nimbly to her branch, kissed her. Should have held her suddenly and danced. They should’ve stayed in Florida. They should have danced and fell from the tree and they both should have been taken to a hospital. Together in a hospital kissing. Why isn’t that happening right now?
“Batman’s car looks like a tank,” Andrew said to Mark, in a Japanese restaurant, in Manhattan, where neither of them lived. “Is he making fun of himself? It’s like he’s just screwing around.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t see this with you,” Mark said. They were going to see the new Batman movie. Mark liked Batman very much but liked Spiderman more. “I’ll see it alone.”
“I want to see it,” Andrew said. “I think if I really wanted I could enjoy it sincerely. I mean, I could ‘get lost in the story,’ or whatever. If I chose to. Should I?”
“It’s not ‘getting lost in the story,’ ” Mark said. “It’s just—it’s
. You are a snob.”
“No I’m not. I liked
, starring Mel Gibson.” Andrew grinned. Shit-eating grin, he thought. Mark did not respond. He was a graduate student, Andrew knew, from Singapore, where in the army one night they screened
in an auditorium, then lectured on patriotism, citing scenes from
. “Is this The Beatles?” Andrew said. They were playing The Beatles, or something, in the Japanese restaurant. “It sounds like it might be The Beatles.”
“It is. I like The Beatles.”
Andrew looked around without processing anything except that he was currently ‘looking around.’ He drank his water—all of it—then set it down and looked at it. Singapore, he knew, was its own capital. Like Vatican City. Only Catholics lived in Vatican City. To get in
you had to get the Pope to stamp your passport. He stamped one hour each day, except Sunday, walking around or sitting on a bench somewhere. You had to find him. Sometimes he climbed a tree to hide. Sara, Andrew thought. None of this was true, he thought, and felt momentarily enlightened—detached from meaning, language, and understanding. “The Beatles …” he said. “Are they—do they believe in God?”
“I don’t know,” Mark said. “I wouldn’t put it above them. Or below them. Whatever.”
“They have one song where he’s like, ‘Jesus loves you,’ or something.”
“No,” Mark said. “That’s someone else.”
“Oh,” Andrew said. “Who?”
“I don’t know,” Mark said.
Andrew picked up the hot pepper. He felt tired. He existentially had the urge to repeatedly say, ‘I’m bored,’ even if he was not bored. He was always bored. Whenever he said something not ‘I’m bored’ he felt a little agitated, and censored.
“American rock music,” Mark said.
They ate without talking. A few weeks ago it seemed like they might become good friends. At night walking near Union Square Mark had said, “Can I ask you a question?” Andrew expected a question about himself. “How do you have fun?” Mark said. “I never had fun, growing up. I don’t know how.” Andrew wanted to hug Mark, or something—give him three wishes—but instead said that Jean Rhys also said she never had fun growing up. “Read
Good Morning, Midnight
, by Jean Rhys,” Andrew said. Another time Mark told Andrew a story (In a café one Friday night, Mark overheard a person talking to the waitress about boredom. The person left. Mark went to the waitress and said, “I’m bored too.” The waitress said, “Boring people are bored.” Mark paid for his tea and left.). And Andrew told Mark a story (After writing class one time the teacher congratulated Andrew on winning the undergraduate writing prize. “What did you win it for?” said a classmate, Sara. “A story,” Andrew said. “What story?” “Something you haven’t read,” Andrew said. “Why haven’t I
read it?” “Because I have about ten stories you haven’t read.” “Can I read them?” “All of them?” “Yeah.” “You won’t read them. Stop being polite. You are out of control.” “I’m not being polite.” “I’ll e-mail one of them,” Andrew said. “Okay,” Sara said, and never read it, then graduated and moved home to Massachusetts, from where she said three or four times, on instant messenger, that she would visit Andrew, and, almost a year later, now, hasn’t.).
“What do you think about the president?” Andrew said.
Mark put noodles into his mouth.
“I think he’s smarter than people think,” Andrew said. “He winked on TV. He winked fast, so only a few people would see. I feel like he’s being ironic all the time.” Andrew stopped talking. Mark did not respond. “I mean everyone on TV is being ironic all the time,” Andrew said. “But the president knows he’s being ironic all the time, so he’s twice ironic. You have to be twice ironic on TV to be regular ironic in real life. So if you’re not ironic on TV you’re
negative ironic in real life. That sounds good. Negative Ironic.” Sounded like a rap-metal band with a right-wing fan base, or else an inchoately independent but then MTV-funded movie with a nihilistic premise but a feel-good ending, that came out last year—that always came out last year.
“Irony is so privileged,” Mark said. “It’s what happens when you don’t need to do anything to survive—it’s when the things you do have nothing to do with survival and you spend forty million dollars to make Steve Zissou and the Atomic Submarine or whatever it’s called.”
“I know,” Andrew said. “What do you want people to do then?”
“I don’t know,” Mark said. “Stop being so—you know, I mean, people now, they’re all like, ‘I’m depressed. You’re depressed. Let’s get together and be depressed.’ ”
“That’s a good name for a movie,” Andrew said. “I’d watch that movie. You would too. Admit it.”
“I don’t think I would. I’m not like you. You think I am.”
“You’re from Singapore.”
Andrew watched the new Batman movie without irony, sincerity, or enjoyment; or maybe a little enjoyment. Outside, he began then did not stop making jokes about believability, pacing, Batman’s smoothies, and Hollywood. Mark said all Andrew did was go around complaining all the time, which was pointless. Andrew apologized, then said he was just being himself—and wasn’t even complaining, really, just making jokes. Mark transposed his interpretation of Andrew’s personality onto modern society and complained about that for a while, citing postmodernism, white people, and Miranda July. Andrew stopped paying attention at white people and thought vaguely about Sara. (“Why haven’t I read it?”) Mark talked about how he should’ve seen the movie by himself. Andrew told Mark to stop saying that. Mark said it again, using different words. Andrew said he should be able to move faster and hurt things. He felt very slow and handicapped, because of Batman, who was absurd and an ironic joke—not to be appreciated without
a lot of sarcasm, even by ten-year-olds. He said Mark was right; all he did was complain all the time. A long time ago Andrew’s friend Steve in Florida said
All I can do is complain, why?
and Andrew liked it; then one time Sara said
All I do is complain
and Andrew liked that; now Andrew was saying “All I can do is complain, why?” and no one liked it.
for me,” Mark said. “I hate you.”
“No you don’t,” Andrew said. “Stop saying that.” He asked Mark about liking Spiderman more than Batman. Mark explained. Andrew understood after the first sentence and stopped listening as Mark gave supporting evidence. They were on Third Avenue in New York City, walking around a bit aimlessly. (“How do you have fun?”) People were laughing because of being in Manhattan, drunk, on a Friday night—was that why? Tomorrow it would be Saturday. At work in the library Andrew would check his e-mail. At night he would work on a short story, the theme of which was that the
main character was doomed, logically, since everyone was doomed. Every sentence would have to say something about that theme or else Andrew would feel that both the story and himself were ‘fucked.’ It was tedious and mostly unrewarding work (trying to be impersonal and interesting about the more despairing parts of one’s past or imagined future) but sometimes, if he wrote lucidly enough, Andrew would feel, in a way that momentarily made him believe despair was a mistake, that he missed those times, that there was a yearning, really, to his prose; and would try, then, to desire, in this missed and wanting and therefore nostalgic way, the present moment, when feeling lonely or sad; to experience it while it was happening as the thing he would later yearn for—to realize, as it was happening, that feeling bad was a mistake—as if it were words on a page, being read not lived. Schopenhauer had said that—that life was to be perceived not as a book you would write but as a book already written, something to be gotten through, so as
to detach oneself from suffering, which was an outside thing, really; not actually in the text. Everything was to be accepted. The world was here. Everything was here. Mark liked Spiderman more. As it existed in what was here, in the world, that ‘Mark liked Spiderman more,’ Andrew knew, it similarly existed that ‘Andrew.’ He was sort of trying to explain this to Mark but then stopped and said, “I feel confused.”
“I don’t know why you’re so depressed,” Mark said. “You have friends. I have no friends.”
“I don’t have friends. I’m not depressed anyway.”
“If you weren’t depressed you’d enjoy
instead of complaining about it,” Mark said.
“I did enjoy it,” Andrew said. “And I complain when I’m happy.”
They walked one block without talking.
“I wish Batman was depressed,” Andrew said. “He would lay in bed in his Batsuit all day. We should make that movie.”
“We should,” Mark said. “Alfred would bring anti-depressant smoothies each morning.”
“Robin would watch TV and get drunk,” Andrew said. “His dialogue would be, ‘I’m a day-time drunk.’ And they’d show Batman hiding in a cave. It would do a close-up of Batman’s face and he’d be shivering between his eyes, with intensity.”
“You’d like that. You’d like it if everyone in the world was depressed,” Mark said. “That’s the only reason you like me probably,” he said hesitantly.
“No,” Andrew said.
They stared at a red light, and waited, then crossed the street.
“I don’t like happy people,” Andrew said. “They’re already happy; they don’t need to be liked.”
“Wow, so selfless,” Mark said. “You’re a saint. I commend your selflessness. Amazing.”
“Sometimes you get sarcastic like that,” Andrew said. “It’s good. How can you be that sarcastic and still sincerely enjoy
“Because I’m not a snob.”
There was a dark alleyway and Andrew saw an alien, behind which was a moose.
A bear pushed Mark and Andrew into the dark alleyway.
“Watch,” the bear said.
The bear disappeared and appeared three feet to the left.
“What did I just do?” the bear said.
“Teleport,” Mark said.
The bear disappeared and appeared one foot above the ground and dropped to the ground and bent at the knees a little.
The bear disappeared and appeared laying on its back.
The bear disappeared and appeared standing five feet away.
“I’m bored,” the bear said. “I’m teleporting.”
The bear walked to Mark.
The bear shoved Mark’s shoulder a little.
“I’m bored,” the bear said.
Mark took out a twenty-dollar-bill and held it at the bear.
The bear stared at Andrew.
“I’m bored too,” Andrew said.
The bear disappeared.
Something bumped into Andrew from behind.
Andrew turned around.
Andrew ran away.
He walked in a deli and bought carrot juice.
Mark walked up to Andrew.
“Hey,” Mark said, and looked at Andrew’s face, then quickly to the side of Andrew’s face; lately he always looked to the side a little. “Are you hungry?”
“Do you want to eat?” Andrew said.
“I don’t know. I could eat.”
“Let’s eat, I guess.”
They went to a Japanese restaurant, a different one. The Japanese had invented female robots, that year, that danced with you, Andrew somehow knew. He had been to Japan before—once. He should be there now. He would walk on Third Avenue in Japan. There would be a Third Avenue there too. Robots would serenade him. “Japan is better than New
York City,” he said. He didn’t want to elaborate. It would take forever to elaborate. Someone would eventually realize that the conversation was just a matter of semantics. Was there even a point to talking? “Never mind,” Andrew said. “I don’t know.” Not wanting to elaborate, that was the symptom of something—something bad. Andrew didn’t want to think about it. Maybe he should take antidepressant medicine. (“Alfred would bring him anti-depressants.…”) See a doctor, fill out forms, wait three weeks for it to ‘kick in’—too hard, of course. Why three weeks? Didn’t seem right. Should be gradual. Semantics, probably. ‘Kick in.’ Mark wasn’t talking anymore. It was March. March, Andrew thought. He sometimes felt that life was something that had already risen, and all this, the Jackson Pollack of spring, summer, and fall, the vague refrigeration and tinfoiled sky of wintertime, was just a falling, really, originward, in a kind of correction, as if by spiritual gravity, towards the wiser consciousness—or consciousnessless, maybe; could gravity trick itself like that?—of
death. It was a kind of movement both very slow and very fast; there was both too much and not enough time to think. They were staring at their menus. They weren’t talking to one another anymore. They were acquaintances. They wouldn’t hang out anymore after tonight, Andrew knew. He would never see Mark again. Also, Mark would never speak again. The waitress came. They ordered but kept their menus—to stare at.