The Weather Channel has a collection of film clips called Crazimals which show animals doing scary things you would expect they do but haven’t actually seen before, like attacking and killing prey, or cute things you wouldn’t expect they do and haven’t actually seen before, like covering a baby with a blanket or skateboarding. Recently, I have realized that this same phenomenon has happened to me and some of my oldest friends. Not that, like an octopus I just saw, we’re able to make lightning fast leaps from a hiding place to successfully land on delicious and unsuspecting crabs, or that we do nice, unexpectedly human things, because, being humans, that kills the “aww, look at them doing that” factor, but that, as we get older, we’re acting in unexpected ways. To put it bluntly, we’re getting weird.
Now, this is not true of all of us, just some of us. Okay, I said “us” so I would include myself and not sound judgmental but really it’s not “us,” it’s them, and not a lot of them, just two, just my two friends who, for reasons of privacy and in a vain attempt to protect myself, I’ll call by pseudonyms; though, if either of them reads this, I’m afraid they’ll recognize themselves right away, so sssshhhhhh, read this, but don’t tell anyone . . .
I’ve known these two friends for years, and as a matter of fact, I introduced them. Like a marriage broker, I knew each of them, thought they were great, and since they were both sort of in the same city—one of them lived there and the other one was from there and visited often—I thought why not get them together and see if they hit it off? They were both young, single, attractive, fun, in love with Boston, and in the middle of successful professional careers. So one day when I was in Boston, we all three got together for coffee, had a great time, and at the end of it, the two of them exchanged contact information and promised to get together the next time the visiting one came to town. Sometime later, I found out they had gotten together again, had had a great time, and were on the way to becoming fast friends. Wonderful, I thought, a happy tune mushrooming up from the back of my mind—“Love is in the air/ everywhere I look around”—my friends are friends, everybody likes everybody, life is great! This was my first mistake.
It’s fifteen years later and they are still fast friends. In fact, in a way, they’re better friends with each other than each of them is with me, they call more often, they see each other more often, they have drinks and dinners and sleepovers. They know each other’s personalities, habits, and quirks with an extensiveness and detail matched only by people who have been intimately involved for years, like writing partners, or marriage partners, or prisoners in the same cell on death row. And like writing partners, or marriage partners, or prisoners in the same cell on death row, they have certain tensions that have built up over the years, which they go over and over again with each other without solving the problem or making the tension go away. And what do people do when they have long-standing conflicts they can’t resolve between themselves? They go to a third party, like a marriage counselor or a judge. Or maybe, the person who introduced them, who knows both of them and, therefore, doesn’t have to constantly be filled in, is friends with each of them and, therefore, can be counted on not to take sides, that stupid, idealistic, naive person who doesn’t see the car wreck in the making but, instead, believes in cotton candy concepts like the-more-the-merrier, and all-my-friends-should-be-friends-with-each-other-too, that Friend-Broker-Eternally-in-the-Middle-of-Endless- Irresolvable-Disputes: me.
It goes like this:
La Commandante: Maudeline wants to move to Spain!
Me: That sounds nice. She goes there on those language school vacations, doesn’t she? Where she gets free room and board in exchange for speaking with students in English?
La Commandante: Yes, but going on vacation is one thing, living there is another.
Me: That’s true, but I moved to France.
La Commandante: Yes, but you spoke the language.
Me: Maudeline doesn’t speak Spanish?
La Commandante: No.
Me: Oh. Well, everyone in Europe speaks English, anyway.
La Commandante: She quit her job. She doesn’t have a job over there or know anyone. She’s going to live in a hotel that costs a hundred dollars a day.
Me: Oh. Well, I guess she wants to make a change.
La Commandante (darkly): We’ll see.
La Commandante was right. Maudeline hated Spain. Here was my conversation with Maudeline after she came back.
Maudeline: People don’t speak English there. It was so difficult to get around!
Maudeline: I couldn’t get a job. There are only these part-time correspondent jobs that pay nothing.
Me: Well, they do have high unemployment there. And you were a foreigner.
Maudeline: Yes. It was unbelievable! I had another idea. To open up a kind of bodega, selling imported English things. But I wouldn’t open up a shop there now if you paid me. It was ridiculous. A hundred dollars a day and nobody to talk to, nothing to do, and impossible to go anywhere, because every time you needed directions they spoke to you in Spanish! If I had to listen to that piped in Muzak in the hotel lobby again or eat one more piece of Manchego cheese, I’d kill myself.
So this is the dynamic. Maudeline is always dissatisfied and wants to change her life. She tells La Commandante about her new plan and La Commandante tries to dissuade her, but it doesn’t work, so La Commandante calls me and says in exasperation something like, “Maudeline wants to move to Spain!” I, thinking that if Maudeline wants to change her life, she should, usually say something witless like, “Spain! How exciting!” Here’s another example.
La Commandante: Maudeline wants to move to Martha’s Vineyard!
Me: What a good idea! She loves the beach.
La Commandante: There are no jobs there. It’s a summer resort.
Me: Oh. What was she thinking of doing?
La Commandante: Opening a shop. Selling English things.
Me: That sounds good. People like that kind of thing.
La Commandante: In summer! When they’re on vacation. What’s she going to do for the rest of the year? She thinks it’d be fun and great because she’s been there in the summer but in the winter it’s cold and dark and there’s nobody there. She’ll be lonely and broke. It’s just like her idea of moving to Spain.
Me: Oh. But they speak English in Martha’s Vineyard.
Luckily, Maudeline decided not to move to Martha’s Vineyard. But the dynamic continues. Maudeline is still dissatisfied, still thinking up plans. She tells the plans to La Commandante who thinks they’re a bad idea. La Commandante then calls me because she’s exasperated and has to vent. Sometimes she asks me to talk to Maudeline. I used to call Maudeline after La Commandante spoke to me, but lately I’ve given up. In addition to being, perhaps, a bit fanciful when she fixes on a plan, Maudeline is quite set in her ways. When she decides to do something, she thinks she’s right and will go ahead with it, regardless of what anyone else says.
Actually, I understand this. It’s her life. While La Commandante is raving, sometimes I think to myself, why should I tell Maudeline what to do? Everyone has her own path, I think, different drummers and all that. Except what do you do when you can see that the path leads smoothly and happily over a cliff? Because that’s why La Commandante calls to tell me about Maudeline. She’s exasperated, but also she’s worried. She sees and talks to Maudeline a lot more than I do, and she knows the facts that Maudeline, when I call, often glosses over or denies.
Maudeline went into a clinical depression after the failed trip to Spain. She was hospitalized in Boston, where she had been living with her parents because she had no money and no job. When she got out, she eventually went back to Washington, D.C., where she had to get another apartment because she had given up her old one in order to go abroad. She took a much more expensive apartment and began to look for jobs, but she didn’t really want to go back into the news business—she was an editor and producer—so though she got a couple temporary jobs, she was quickly out of work again. She’s been out of work, and living on her retirement savings, for about four years now. She’s not married and doesn’t have a wealthy family, so the retirement money is all she has, and she seems to be running through it pretty steadily. She earns money from part-time jobs, like being a guide at museums, taking care of people’s pets when they’re on vacation, or helping people move, but usually she doesn’t make enough from these to pay her rent. La Commandante is frantic about Maudeline’s situation. She sends her job postings all the time. But Maudeline won’t apply for jobs she’s qualified for, because she doesn’t want to go back into news. She tries to get other jobs, like working in a bookstore or food copy editing, but so far she’s had no luck. It’s a tough job market now, she’s no longer young, and she doesn’t have any experience in these new fields which, by the way, pay a lot less than what she was making, but, as La Commandante says, at least it’s a job. La Commandante thinks that Maudeline’s been unemployed so long she’s become unemployable; employers simply look at that and throw her resume out. Even me, with my maniacally New Age if-you-can-visualize-it-you-can-get-it outlook, feel a sinking in my stomach when I think about it. I’ve had my own job vicissitudes so I know—the job market isn’t what it used to be. There are more mergers and, thus, consolidations and lay-offs; even people with experience, who want to continue doing what they do, are often hard pressed to keep or find a new job.
So I agree with La Commandante. Maudeline can’t go on like this. On the other hand, I don’t like doing what La Commandante does: giving people advice, encouraging them, trying to help them with their lives. To me, it feels perilously like telling people what to do, a thing I hate when people do it to me. I guess I feel like everyone has to live their own life. I can’t make Maudeline get a job or be more realistic, and, anyway, what does “realistic” mean? If you open up an imported English goods store in Martha’s Vineyard, maybe it’ll take off. Maybe you’ll get website orders in the months when people aren’t there, or you’ll end up finding another job that’s perfect for you that you wouldn’t have got if you hadn’t been on the island running your store! Yes, I know, that’s the way I think. I’ve been reading too many channeled books.
So actually, I suppose it’s a good thing I introduced La Commandante to Maudeline. La Commandante has the let’s-do-something-about-this spirit that I lack and that perhaps Maudeline needs. They are polar opposites: La Commandante full of energy, confidence, and fire; Maudeline methodical, cautious, and cool, the wildness of her exotic plans, I sometimes think, masking a fairly large quantity of uncertainty.
How will it end? I don’t know. I worry that Maudeline won’t get a new job. But every time I talk to her and we talk about jobs she’d like to try, she agrees with my suggestions wholeheartedly but then doesn’t pursue them. La Commandante is better at this. She pushes and prods. She doesn’t give up. She recently got Maudeline a job lead through one of her contacts—Maudeline didn’t get an interview, but still. La Commandante continues to send job notices to Maudeline, to talk out ideas with her, to urge her to apply. Maudeline protests, waffles, feels pushed, like a cat shrinking from a too bouncy, big-footed dog. But eventually, she does something, writes a cover letter, makes a call. La Commandante can’t pounce on the crab for Maudeline, but she’s there in the shadows, smiling at her, making pouncing pantomimes. I suppose I should do more of this.
Maybe I’ll give Maudeline a call. Sometimes it takes more than one crazipal to help you get your crab catching mojo back.
About the Author
Kathryn Hayashi is a graduate of Yale University and the Writers Workshop in New York City. She has been writing for years but only recently started submitting for publication. She writes humorous essays and literary fiction, and has just completed a two-novella work set in a Japanese American internment camp in 1942, titled Heart Mountain. She was raised in Burbank, California, but has become, as E.B. White called it, part of the third New York, the settlers, who give it passion.