Some colleagues and I were just out having dinner and out-olding one another. One woman said she was glad to finally be old enough that our college students look like tiny soft little babies who could not possibly be sexually attractive to anyone. I responded that I feel so old I see them as being at the height of their sexual desirability for one another, and may God bless them in all their endeavors, because when they get to be my age, none of that shit is fun anymore. Satan in the Garden, that’s me.
This weekend, I was out of town for a conference, and while at the hotel bar with friends, a guy about my age strikes up a conversation with me, having overheard me discussing seventeenth-century economics. I assume he’s One Of Us until he informs me that he’s just a guy in town on business who happens to have a casual interest in the birth of the modern era and the rise of global capitalism. “See, you can pretty much look at the way consumer markets work now in comparison to what was going on with the sugar and tobacco trades, only now it’s computers and bottled water. You got to look back that far, at least, to understand what’s going on now. Advertising, labor, investment—the whole thing.” I’m like, dude, that’s my line. That’s what I’m teaching right now.
My friend in the group points out, as the fellow goes to the restroom, that the gentleman in question is in possession of a singularly searing beauty. What Ever, I respond, because I am twelve in my old age. But the friend has a point, especially with respect to a pair of celadon eyes and early-salting thick black hair. And it turns out he grew up speaking precisely the obscure dialect of Spanish that I grew up learning from a friend in high school. He’s really nice, funny, a bit nervous, and impressively intelligent.
The thing that is nagging at me is that I have to give a presentation at 8am, and I haven’t slept in days, and the thing hasn’t even been edited properly. I’m enjoying meeting a person, which is weird because I almost never enjoy meeting a person, but all I can think about is trying to scrape together a full night’s sleep and doing a good job. The guy is suggesting all kinds of things we should do—go out to a bar down the street, walk around, get a bottle of something and stay up all night. “We will be like Baudelaire! We’ll write and drink and talk and fuck! And then you’ll go give your presentation and I’ll go give my presentation, and we’ll be great because of how we did it!” Even my friend, whose panel is the reason I’m there, is telling me to go. “Please, please do this. I need you to tell me about it. You’ll be my hero.”
But I don’t. I say, look, I’m not 25. I can’t pull shit like that off anymore. I want to do my job well. I don’t want to be the bedraggled specter of conference decadence, groaning my miserable way through a rambling paper and then blinking off all questions. I want to be taken seriously, not as a passionate young artist of life, but as a boring obnoxious old dyspeptic professor of literature. I can’t. I rush off before I can change my mind.
What I don’t tell him is that I don’t like strangers anymore. But if there ever was a stranger I would wish I’d said yes to, it would be him.
The next day I felt horrible regret, the young-person kind—the what-if kind. I can’t even tell what’s special, or who is special, and I certainly don’t know what to do about it, or what a normal person would do about it. I go down to the hotel bar again, my presentation and all my obligations well behind me, but he isn’t there.