The End of The Date
July 19, 2010 | by Elif Batuman
10:35 P.M. I spot Amelia and Anne in the crowd walking back to the ferry. Amelia thinks that Stepan Trofimovich must really have been supposed to look like Marx: when he was dying in Varvara Petrovna’s arms, that was nascent Marxism being stifled in the embrace of the serf-based order. Heat lightning flashes above the bay. J. points out the roof of the Merrill Lynch building where he once interned for a twenty-three-year-old investment banker and realized that the corporate world was not for him. We are joined by The New York Post writer, who knows J. from journalism school. She has already submitted her six-inch article via cell phone.
10:45 P.M. Inside the ferry, it’s incredibly hot and stuffy. As in some strange dream, the actors are there too, sitting on benches along the walls. Some of them no longer resemble their characters, while others appear virtually unchanged. Stepan Trofimovich still has a wild black beard and wild white hair. Maybe he was born that way. His presence, I realize, makes me vaguely uneasy—as if part of me fears that he might start coughing and dying again.
10:55 P.M. In the past ten minutes, the ferry hasn’t gotten any less hot, stuffy, or stationary. “Maybe they have to dismantle the set before the boat can start,” J. suggests, producing a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
11:00 P.M. “You know what I’m really craving now, is breakfast cereal,” J. remarks.
“Oh, really?” I reply. “I’m craving an enormous glass of Scotch.”
“Well, sure, that would be OK too. But just picture a big bowl of raisin bran, with cold milk. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?”
I give the matter some thought. “It sounds totally irrelevant to my life and problems,” I confess.
11:05 P.M. J. introduces me to the Post reporter. “I saw you in the audience,” she tells me. “You were writing the whole entire time!” I explain that I was taking notes for a minute-by-minute account, designed for the insatiably curious readers of The Paris Review website. “Now I have to go home and write it up,” I say, in tones that came out sounding more despondent than I had intended.
“Next time you shouldn’t take so many notes,” she says. “The more notes you take, the more notes you have to read later. You’re just creating more work for yourself.”
I give this advice some thought. “Thanks for the tip,” I say.
11:08 P.M. “Are you going to talk to them?” someone stage-whispers to the Post reporter, jerking his head toward the actors.
“No,” she says. “What would I say to them?”
Amelia, however, is having a lively conversation in Italian, with Dostoevsky’s narrator. The mayor’s wife, sitting on the narrator’s other side, looks studiously elsewhere, as if afraid that she might end up included in the conversation. I wonder what Amelia and the narrator are talking about, but not enough to get up and find out.
“Wait—is she interviewing him?” J. asks. Sure enough, I see now that Amelia is nodding vigorously while writing in a notebook. She is definitely interviewing him. Where does she get her lively disposition from?
“I have no journalistic instincts left,” I sigh. “Life has trampled them out of me. I don’t even know how much I would have to be paid to go over there and talk to those people. But it’s definitely more than I’m getting paid.”
“That doesn’t mean you have no journalistic instincts left,” J. tells me. “You’re just tired. They’re all tired, too. It isn’t the right time to do an interview.”
I stare at him. What a considerate guy. And really good-looking—seriously, I’m not making that part up. This whole thing is just so weird.
11:11 P.M. Something is progressively tightening in my chest. Could this be a panic attack? A meta-panic attack?
11:15 P.M. It isn’t like a play—it’s like life: this remembered utterance by Marx (Patricia, not Karl), echoing in my mind, suddenly seems inexpressibly sinister. I am struck by a terrible thought. What if the play hasn’t ended? I imagine the rest of life going by like this, with shrieking and Fourierism in Italian, bathroom breaks every seventy-five minutes, and every night a big bowl of lettuce and breadcrumbs. Twelve hours in a motionless ferry, and then on to… where? Staten Island? Great Neck? Sheepshead Bay?
11:17 P.M. The ferry is moving! A barely perceptible breeze wafts through the window, like the first faint breath of hope. Is it possible I might someday see my home and my cat again?
11:25 P.M. Disembarking the ferry in Manhattan, we notice a poster advertising a whole series of Lincoln Center Composting Demonstrations on Governors Island. “This looks like a serious program for them,” J. observes.
11:30 P.M. Bidding us a hasty goodbye, the Post writer races down the gangplank to the subway station. J. asks whether I, too, will be taking the subway. I entertain the prospect for about a microsecond.
“The Paris Review is paying for a taxi,” I announce grimly. We wonder whether it makes sense to share a cab. It doesn’t—we are headed in opposite directions. Traffic has become congested in front of the ferry terminal, so we walk a couple of blocks west.
11:35 P.M. I thank J. for sticking around all night. “I’m getting an ulcer even thinking about how miserable I would have been there all alone.”
“It was great to meet you. I’m just sorry my pants kept coming undone. I have these weird pants.” While buttoning his pants with one hand, he hails me a cab. We decide we might meet for dinner the next time I’m in New York. The taxi glides to a stop before us. I climb inside, close my eyes, and fall almost immediately into a deep sleep.