BJ Novak and I share the same favorite story from his debut novel, One More Thing.
For a while, I could quote it from memory, mostly because I’d read it to everyone. Or I’d shove the book in their face and say, “Read this! You have to! It’s only three pages, and it contains the most gorgeous prose I’ve ever read in my life.” I read it to my parents. To Mr. D. I would read it to Big A at night, and when she once announced her dreams of becoming an astronaut, I beamed like the light from a thousands moons.
When I met BJ Novak at a book signing last fall, I asked him to sign my favorite story from the collection, and he said it might just be his favorite one, too.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” I replied, pointing to the very subtle reference from the very last story of the book.
“I don’t think anyone has ever noticed that,” he said.
I’ve replayed our entire exchange many, many times since then, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I would only do two things differently were I able to travel back in time: I would have ordered another Book with No Pictures for him to sign (the ones at the event were too expensive, and my dog, in the late stages of bone cancer, had vomited all over our original copy), and I would have asked him to sign our favorite story as JC Audetat, a private joke all of our own.
Mr. D knows I love BJ Novak. He even said, “I hope you get an interview” when I went to see his show. (I didn’t, though we did have that brief moment in the book sign line). I like to think of myself as the Mindy Kaling to Mr. D’s BJ Novak, the effervescent Indian counterpart to a supremely brilliant and hilarious White guy, but that may be where the similarities end. As much as I would love to see them get back together (they’d have the sweetest, funniest daughters!), I don’t know if BJ Novak feels like I do about love.
I’m judging this solely from his short story collection, of course, and more specifically, from the narrator’s second fantasy in “Sophia,” in which a woman’s head rests on a man’s shoulder as they look out into the world and see the same thing. I loaned my copy of One More Thing to my Weed Husband a few months back, so this is a tough theory to fact check at this very moment, but I’m pretty sure most of Novak’s love stories are connected by an underlying thread of shared experiences and, more so, shared outlooks: the couple who outraced the rain, the man with “a good problem to have,” the family who attended the world’s biggest rip-off. Even the most beautiful girl in the bookstore. Especially the most beautiful girl in the bookstore.
It’s a two-page story about a girl who loves a bookstore that sells books and and also sells things. Her boyfriend doesn’t quite understand her love for it, and they disagree on whether the books should be organized by color (they should not), or whether the store would be better with a photo booth (it absolutely would), and in the end, they break up because she could never shake the feeling that she was always his favorite thing in the bookstore.
The hopeless romantic in me hates this story. Like, what the hell, BJ Novak? Why did they have to break up? In the wise words of Carrie Bradshaw, “If you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.” Who cares if he didn’t love the bookstore? He loved her.
Or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself now, at 12:46am, on the night of the Hunter’s Moon.
If I had any artistic talent, my self-portrait would be of me on the toilet, my head in my hands. Not sad or anxious or overwhelmed. Just tired. Maybe stressed. The stress comes and goes.
Right now I’m obsessing over work, over the possibility that my Cinderella story of the past year, of slaving over kitten dresses I could never call my own while being belittled, diminished, and demoralized on a regular basis, may finally be coming to a close. I have one more day until I return to the office. The first day of the waning moon. Shit’s about to go down.
Mr. D, don’t you see that? Don’t you know how important this all is to me? Don’t you care? Or are you sick of me talking about it? Do I just annoy you?
I wanted to toast it all. I even had my Facebook status all planned out. We’d check into the restaurant and I’d write, “Cheers to the moon!” even though we probably wouldn’t be drinking, and only three people would get the reference. But that’s what I wanted.
I wanted to spend the night madly in love, drunk off shared life fantasies. I had been looking forward to this date all day.
That night, I wore contacts and tried on four different outfits, and you never once told me I looked beautiful. Not that I needed it. It didn’t even cross my mind until we came home and I saw my dresses and jeans strewn across the bed, and in my icy resentment, it just became one more thing you didn’t notice.
There were so many. On the drive up to dinner, I admired the moon–more gorgeous than I’ve ever seen; my prose couldn’t begin to do it justice. And it was probably the weed, but I started waxing poetic on religion, on the old gods, on Karva Chauth and how I’m looking forward to the Hindu celebration of fasting for your health this Wednesday, and somewhere around my daily gratitude prayer I started choking up. Did you even hear it in my voice, or were you too preoccupied with why the Next Friday soundtrack wasn’t playing “Murder Murder?”
As we turned onto a side street, your interest shifted to a Domino’s Pizza sign.
“Did you see it?” you asked, and I told you no, I was gazing at the moon. Brighter and more beautiful than I’ve ever seen.
You chuckled. “It’s nice, but the sign was cool, too. All big and shiny.”
“Big and shiny? That’s all you got?”
We laughed and you told me about the pizzeria’s old-fashioned charm, and I said I wanted to see it on the ride home, though of course we took a different route when we left.
I hope we come back. I liked that little town. Felt almost New England and reminded me of our trip to Boston back in Oct. 2009, exactly one month before Big A would first find her way to our lives.
We had parked a block away from the restaurant, and as we walked down the cobble-stoned sidewalk, I ooh’d and ahh’d at the window displays of all the eclectic stores. I said even the deepest Bleeding Heart has to admit that there’s something beautiful to the quaintness here, that it really does evoke a nostalgia for an America that once was, for a time we never knew, but that the Trump supporters would then need to acknowledge that this period in America was profoundly fucked up for a lot of people who are no longer in the minority, and that the roots of the past still blatantly exist in the present.
You said yeah. We kept walking.
The restaurant was packed when we got there, and I suggested we eat somewhere else, and you muttered some vague words of agreement, and I said let’s head down to the river before we leave, and you complained about the weather, and when we got to the river, you said you’ll kill me if I drop my phone in the water, and that felt like a dark, unfunny joke, especially when I suggested we could just use your phone, and yes, I know you hate posing for pictures in public, and I rarely even ask that of you, but I wanted a photo of us and the moon. Why is that so fucking hard to understand?
You knew I was pissed. You didn’t want to go out, would have much preferred chilling with the Weed Husband, watching random TV and laughing at all his hilarious riffs, and I wanted to do that too. I just wanted to stop by the bookstore first.
You don’t share my love for the bookstore, and it hurts. It sometimes feels like you don’t want to be with me. Like you’d rather be somewhere else. Falling asleep on the couch while watching Venture Brothers night after night. Lying on my parent’s sofa as they toast my newly paid-off Internet real estate. Working after hours. Ignoring my body all week because you know I’ll be down for our Saturday morning finger bang. Frolicking in the land of the Lotus Eaters.
There was a time when that’s the only place you wanted to be. I rarely bring it up because it feels like a lifetime away in the epic story that is our love, but there are times, rare instances like tonight, when I think of my love for you, of the song lyrics I’d play over and over in my head when we first got together, the ones we’d one day dance to at our wedding, and I sit in the bathroom with my head in my hands, and I cry.
I’m ready to give up food and water for an entire day for you as an early anniversary present, and you had the nerve to suggest I meet you at the chiropractor on Wednesday night if I get too hungry? And I agreed? Does my fast for your health on the fourth day of the waning moon mean nothing? Why does it feel like your well-being always comes at my expense? Do you care if I die trying to keep the phone from falling in the water?
I’m tired and stressed and I know I play a good martyr, but I’ve been running off three hours of sleep most nights, and I’m too terrified of the lotus eaters to take my sleeping pills even when I need them. I don’t need this right now. And yet this is the fight we’ve been fighting for the last eight years, in a thousand different ways: you act selfish, and then I get emotional, and then you become warm just as I become cold, and then life gets in the way, and then we stop having sex, and then the stars align once more, and things become good, and the sex is hot, and we fuck on weeknights, and I fall deeper in love, and then it happens all over again. A cycle as predictable as the moon.
I was still a bit high as we left the restaurant and walked to the river, and I thought about the picture we took when I was fucked up off my pot brownie at Longwood Gardens the weekend before.
We had just completed a labyrinth, and my restless monkey heart was freaking out over the eerie subjugation of nature, but in your bright, positive, reassuring, loving arms, I felt safe. We were lost from our friends, the two of us alone in a room full of fountains when you noticed a small pathway. There was a window within the wall, a stain-glassed mosaic that we hadn’t noticed, even though, just minutes before, we had sat on the other side to take a picture. It was of the sun. Behind us the whole time. Smiling.
I thought of that as I watched the silver reflection in the river.
I want to get a picture of us here, I said, and you didn’t want to be around the gaggle of high school kids also gathered nearby, and so we walked a dozen yards away and found a lovely spot to take some forced, shitty photos. I looked terrible in all of them and said so and you asked why I always have to be so negative.
Then, as we headed back to the car, we passed a cute soap-and-lotion shop, and I told you I’m almost out of my herbal moisturizer, that this would make a great anniversary present, and you said I should just buy it myself and put it on the Costco card, and I said that’s not thoughtful at all, and you said, neither is telling me what to get, especially now, when you’d never remember, and I said, See! That’s the very definition of no thought! I’m telling you what I want, and you’re dismissing it completely.
I felt dismissed the entire night. Before it even began.
You had complained about the windshield after we dropped the girls at my parents, and I remembered the Windex when we got back to the house. Grab paper towels, you told me, and when we got in the car, you drenched the window and said I hadn’t brought nearly enough. Then, as I opened the glove box to look for some drive-through napkins, you handed me a tiny stack from the center console, and I thought you were a dick for criticizing the amount I brought when you should’ve had more in the car.
But it didn’t matter. We had all that we needed. The window was spotless and dry by the time we finished. “Like a convertible,” I said, and you reminded me that even convertibles have windshields, and we laughed, and although I didn’t “understand the significance of everything that happened” at the time, like the narrator from “Sophia,” I know now that it would have been the perfect window from which we could look out into the world and see the same thing.
But that’s not us. That’s not my idea of love.
A few days back, when I was stoned and waiting for my dad to take my to lunch, I texted you my stoner reveries.
Last night, after we left the historic town by the water, but before we hung out with the Weed Husband, we drove to the new restaurant I wanted to try, the one with the thoughtful music monkeys on the wall. I was hurt and pissed and wallowing the entire way, and of the thousand-plus songs stored in your music library, the bass line of our wedding song blared through the speakers. Randomness in just the right moment.
“Remember my text from the other day,” I asked, as Dave Matthews sang the words that always remind me of our love. “The Universe is so funny, isn’t it? It’s random, and yet it knows exactly what it’s doing.”
Did you agree? Did you respond? I don’t remember. I was busy searching for a parking spot by then, and you were heading to the large, empty lot a block away.
It shouldn’t be too far a walk, I told you, but you said you didn’t mind. You were suddenly in the mood for a moonlit stroll.