So I Did This Dumb Thing Where I Paid Actors to Hang Out with Me and Play My Best Friend, But, If You Knew What I Was Going Through at the Time, You'd Probably Say, "Oh, I Guess that Makes Sense"
This old friend of mine is getting divorced, I heard,
and then she immediately started chatting me up
on Facebook. So I suppose what that means is that friendship
is its own reward. That’s true of most things,
but we get confused
when you throw in other variables: career, money, sex.
I’m sure there are others, but this is what’s coming to mind,
how the different burners of our life,
the ones we decide to leave on or crank up to High,
and the ones we must therefore turn off or down,
which I think includes health and friendships and career,
and there’s one other—maybe family—and that’s the one
I always forget, not because it isn’t important but maybe
because that’s the one whose neglect
seems most intimately tied
to a Larger Truth, about which if we’re failing
we’re really Failing, and so I don’t know how
to go about adjusting that burner. I only know
that sometimes I turn it down. Once I had a neighbor
who kept telling me to do things differently,
to escape, to leave what I’d started, to leave her, to abandon her,
to get going, to scram, to up and go, to find a way to Get Out,
to learn myself a new plan of action: Do Not Be Where You Are.
I asked my other neighbor, this beautiful woman with red hair
and glasses, for advice, and she thought about it for six months
and then finally said, “It’s tough to know
what a friendship is ‘about,’”
which would have really struck me as profound
if she’d said it sooner or if we hadn’t pulled off
all those bank heists. Which is a euphemism.
But only partly. We should all take turns
listening to this or that silence. Even that seems a good plan,
a good idea, something at least to consider. But after the bank heists
I decided to go ahead and hire actors—because of loneliness, I guess.
My wife kept saying things like, “Nobody wants to get divorced,
but that’s no reason to keep having all these affairs, right?”
Which is true. And then we talked about John Edwards.
And Donald Trump. And then it seemed even more true.
The strangest part is knowing what you’re thinking
while casting. One I chose because she had red hair and glasses.
Another I chose because she knew the difference
between all the different old-timey hats, which seemed
pretty essential at the time. Turns out: it wasn’t useful at all
to have these actors asking me if I’d rather take a walk
or find a movie on Netflix or to just get busy
chatting up the old friend on Facebook
while we sort of ignored each other.
It was weird to pretend to be comfortable sitting on their beds
as they did their homework. It was weird
to pretend that I also liked all their favorite music.
Turns out it wasn’t that rewarding to compliment
the taste of another, to ask how her day really was. Plus,
I got jealous dissecting their dates. The men
they were trying to love, while I was paying them,
happened into one casual sexual encounter
after another, which seemed facile and kind of confusing,
My red-haired friends (they all had red hair and glasses,
I should have said)
described these encounters
in a way that made me sad
for them, my paid-actor friends,
because they could only justify it. They just kept saying
how they couldn’t really be mad. They just kept saying
how they couldn’t really be mad because of these payments,
because of the weird thing they had going with me, which,
they wanted me to know, was its own kind of bank heist,
and which, they wanted me to know, would need to stop
soon, very soon, right after the next semester got underway,
right after the new year, right after the new management
took over and things improved, just as soon
as they got their shit together, just as soon
as they got all their burners
dialed, you know, the way they needed to be.
I mailed my old friend a check for a thousand dollars.
I mailed the bank a check for half of what I stole.
To my friends (because what other name is there)—
their mouths would twitch a little when they’d say it,
when they’d put their wet noses into my chest
and tell me how they couldn’t be mad,
not really, because they’d never officially agreed
they wouldn’t be sleeping with other people—
I only listened. That’s all I’d paid for.