This Year I Rewrite My Novel???Part XVI, A Cat at the Colosseo or: I Shook Gary Shteyngart’s Hand.

I was at Smith, a neighborhood bar belonging to the empire of cool but relatable Seattle bars owned by the same woman and featuring a kind of interior that I could describe as woodsy, nostalgic with a skosh of morbid–high ceilings and stuffed pheasants, little expressionless buck heads, faux oil paintings (even one of a tragic and handsome JFK) mounted on the dark walls.

A kind of aesthetic that is fashionably-plaid, not a plaid to cover up the stains of a utilitarian life.

A plaid that stays warm beneath Pendleton blankets, not out of necessity because we (the young, we, the middle and upper class!) almost live in an age of post-necessity.

Like necessity was so in before the Internet, and now that we’ve got everything, we don’t need anything, just the relics of neediness–the relics of useful plaid.

An hour earlier, I had a run-in with a former flame, and there I was at Smith having a debrief (in the form of a Cuban pork sandwich and a martini) with my friend Talia, with whom I just traveled in Italy.

My friend, who with my other friend, Elizabeth once sang “Heart of Gold” to a depressed version of me in a bar. My friend, who once, while we were walking my dog in the park, and I held a cone of mint ice cream and I tried to reorient myself to get a baggie to pick up his doggie business, took the leash from me and said:

“I can’t let you eat ice cream and pick up dog poop at the same time, Nancy!”

True friend!

So, I’m a bit shaken up as one is apt to be shaken up after confronting the awkward people/disappointments from the past, the awkward post-post conversation that you’ve had in your head already but is, dear god, actually happening!

I’m shaking. I can hardly keep the vodka from spilling out of my glass.

I look upward and, because I am agnostic, I beg for an answer, I beg for meaning from anywhere, in this case, from the spoon-billed heron mounted, with tufts of grass, in a glass box on the wall.

I ask, “Why? Why me?”

There is no answer. Not even the spoon-billed heron frozen like Lenin has answers. There is no sense to the heron. If there was sense, the heron wouldn’t be in a damn box forever with its false eyes watching me eat a sandwich.

And in walks Gary Shteyngart.

I say to Gary Shteyngart, “You’re Gary Shteyngart!” He nods. “I recognize you from your author photo. You look like your author photo.”

He thanks me.

Shteyngart did a Seattle reading earlier that night which, despite the wise recommendation, I missed because I felt guilty that I was only 30 pages into his book. (I always find a reason to feel guilty.)

I tell him this.

I also say, “Oh, my friend Talia and I just came back from Rome.” His new book begins in Rome. “And, I’m just, oh, gawsh, gee, golly, it’s like parallel lives, you know?”

He nods.

So, here I am talking about the recent run-in with the former flame. And just the night before I couldn’t go to bed so I read the first 30 pages of Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, that begins in Rome, by the Pantheon, by which I recently stayed in a crummy B&B.

I am talking to Talia also about Rome in general and how, when we were there, we said that we would write postcards to ourselves with some kind of epiphany we had while traveling.

I would keep her postcard and she would keep mine. And in three months, we’d send our respective postcards to each other to remind us, randomly of what we learned.

I wanted to choose a bad postcard. I had seen so many of them that they began to look attractive. Even worse ones in Sardegna:

“Bachione!” (“Kisses!”) A garish Lisa-Frankish heart bubble, hot pink and glittery, around a black-and-white uncaring, non-photogenic dog. That same dog could’ve been the star of an ad campaign for worms: “Get your dog tested for worms!”

A sheep with the word “Sardegna” in neon yellow to the left of it with a pastoral “generic barn” background. Hay everywhere, helter-skelter. A sheep that looks like the carrier of many diseases. Many terrible, terrible barn diseases

Somebody make sense of this for me?

By the end of the trip, although they each brought me so much joy, I ended up having to choose a single postcard, a singular image–a grey tabby with green eyes perched on some miscellaneous (Photoshopped?) ledge in front of the great Colosseum under some great orange light.

I don’t understand what it means and that beguiles and amuses me to no end. Perhaps it means nothing? Perhaps it’s just a representation of a particularly-handsome feral cat in Rome and what would happen if it, the surprisingly-clean, non-flea-bag one just happened to perch itself on a mythical ledge in front of the actual Colosseo, dusky orange light everywhere?

Transience vs. Timelessness? Covered-in-Fur vs. Not-Covered-in-Fur?

Or perhaps it means that people like cats and people like architecture, Nancy.


Three months from now when I get this postcard in the mail, I’ll laugh and remember all the other postcards that I didn’t choose. Baaaaah, Sardegna! And I’ll flip this one over and it’ll read:

Dear Three-Months-Future Nancy,

Remember the ferry from Cala Gonone in Sardegna? Remember the happy beautiful family with their happy beautiful little girl? Remember how the parents amused their daughter? Remember how the girl laughed with her eyes closed, her mouth wide-open? Remember how sad you felt thinking that, as a child, no one loved you or themselves enough to try to make you laugh? Remember how you said you would laugh anyways? That just because no one wanted to amuse you, that didn’t mean you couldn’t spend today, and the rest of your life, amused, laughing, perhaps like an idiot, and that it would be easy, much easier than you ever thought to just say, “I’m not doomed. And if I am, there is laughter. Look there, and there is love.”


Three-Months-Ago Nancy

I did shake Gary Shteyngart’s hand and when asked what I’ve been up to, I said, quite elegantly: “I just got served by a douchebag?”