I’m sitting on old-pal-Tim’s front porch in Richmond, propped backwards in a chipped away rocking chair reading The Big Sleep. Phillip Marlowe, iconic P.I. from the 1920’s that screams for a Humphrey Bogart portrayal (and got one), has just invited a long-legged female client into his office named Vivian, who crosses her legs in front of his desk, pulls out a cigarette from a French enamel case and lights it. Phillip Marlowe does the same. I decide to do the same. I continue to read, cigarette in one hand, book in the other.
“Are you honest, Mr. Marlowe?” she asks him as her sultriness practically drips off her body.
“Painfully,” he responds.
Ooh that’s good, I think to myself, real good. My head begins to bob in excitement. I’ll have to use that. I wonder how to recreate that question in real life. I’d have to inspire someone to question my honesty, my integrity, even. That means I’d have to do or say something questionable. The dilemma is boiled down to which is more important: the integrity of my actions or wit? They are not mutually exclusive, is my answer.
Just then a trio of hipsters emerges from the front door of the house. None of them are clean shaven. They’re all wearing band t-shirts. They say hello to me. I realize I’m not in DC anymore and barely respond. They jaunt their way down the steps and along the street arguing whether one of Ryan Adams’ albums should actually be categorized as a Whiskeytown album. The guy with the bushy red beard is sure it should be. I stare at them as they walk away. That is exactly the kind of meaningless conversation I’m desperate for. I look at my phone and wonder when Tim gets back so we can argue about time travel. Something about the air agrees with my lungs despite the cigarette and I breath easy as I rock and read.
Now I’m sitting Indian style on a grassy knoll in between two memorial bridges, behind the pillar-surrounded memorial housing a petrified Abraham Lincoln on his overgrown throne. Directly in front of me is the glowing sunset over the Potomac River, 747’s flying toward their airstrips, and hoards of joggers running toward a better life. They disappear down the steps to the river and reappear in intervals in attempts to distract me. To no avail. My anxiety had brought me there, the quietest place I could find after riding my scooter around the city for an hour, and I intended to fight with it. Sometimes anxiety is like an itch you have to scratch, but if allowed to run wild, it’ll make you scratch forever.
Marlowe has just taken a gun from Vivian’s little sister, Carmen, a tiny blonde with a penchant for seducing for the sake of it.
“You’re cute,” she giggles at Marlowe.
“What you see is nothing,” he responds indifferently, “I’ve got a Bali dancing girl tattooed on my right thigh.”
I pick up my head and laugh. Can’t recreate that one; only works on the page, I realize. I take a deep breath and exhale out my bad day. I yearn for the easy pace of cigarette breathing.
Now I’m on a plane flying back from a work trip in Colorado. I sip on my Gin and Tonic and read with a purpose, to finish The Big Sleep.
Marlowe has been beaten, bound, and gagged, and he still manages to be himself.
“What did you expect, Mr. Marlowe-” says the woman keeping watch over him, a woman Marlowe spends a little extra time describing than normal, “-orchids?”
“Just a plain pine box,” Marlowe says bound hand and foot to a lounge chair, “Don’t bother with bronze or silver handles. And don’t scatter my ashes over the blue Pacific. I like the worms better. Did you know that worms are of both sexes and that any worm can love any other worm?”
“You’re a little light-headed.”
I laugh hard to myself. Thank god for airplane noise; you can laugh as loud as you want to yourself. My heart picks up its pace as the climax approaches, and as DC approaches. I sip and wonder if anyone can be like Phillip Marlowe, cold to his surroundings no matter what they are, always himself, never afraid? If not, can you throw a hitch onto that Richmond porch that seems to inherently breed easy breathing and carefree conversations? I look around me on the airplane and note the constants in my life. Me. Wallet. iPhone. The Big Sleep? Didn’t see you there, old friend. And, unfortunately, it takes me so long to finish books they do become old friends. I’m dying for a fling with one.
I sip again and wonder if I have more control over my surroundings than I sometimes feel? Answer: yes. And if Gin and Tonic can join my life as a constant? Answer: no.
“Yes?” the flight attendant leans over and asks in response to the button I pressed.
I order another.