In some remote corner of my memory, I can recall being bored, and I know for certain now that I did not know enough then to fully appreciate the delicious taste of being completely at a loss to find something interesting or meaningful to do. Oh, what I would give for just one tiny morsel of it now, just an hour to recline on the sofa, listening to records and examining my cuticles. How thrilling, the notion of taking an even bigger bite: a few hours to drink a pot of coffee and read an entire novel in one sitting. Just imagine!
These days, it takes me a month to read a novel. I get five pages here, 20 pages there. Five days may pass without a single page having been read. I have a very good friend who has been on a novel-reading jag like no other I have ever heard of. In the past 10 months, he has read more than eighty novels, including Ulysses, Gravity’s Rainbow, All The King’s Men, and several of the great Russian novels. If he keeps this up another year, he should be awarded an honorary Master of Arts Degree in Literature, as well as a certificate for having challenged out of Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course.
We talk fairly regularly on the phone, and while it is always a treat to hear what he has read or is reading now, I confess openly to a certain jealousy over the time he has to read. About a month ago, I recommended my favorite American novel, Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree to him, even pledging to re-read it along with him if he would put it on his list. This, of course, was a big mistake. I called him a couple of days later to compare notes on the first chapter or two.
“Oh, I loved it,” he said. “So do you think that the dead guy in the houseboat was really him?”
“You mean you’re FINISHED?” I said. The book is 478 pages, very dense, intricate, and complex throughout.
“Yeah, I finished it this morning,” he said. “Great book. Where are you?”
“I’m on page 28,” I said. “Let’s touch base again in a month and we’ll talk about the dead guy in the houseboat.”
Now, my friend does have a job, and I would never describe him as “bored.” On the other hand, he does not have a wife and two kids. His Monday evenings do not resemble a word problem from math class: If Daddy leaves work at 5 p.m., and Kayden has Girl Scouts at 6 p.m., but Mom has Yoga at 5:30, how fast will Daddy have to drive the 30 miles home in order to pick up Kayden, drop her off, get back to the health center, and run three miles before picking Kayden up at 6:45? How fast will he have to run those three miles? And what can we cook for dinner that isn’t Spaghettio’s or cereal that will enable us to eat, take baths, and read a bedtime story by the kids’ bedtime, which is 8 p.m.?
Of course, in the morning, there is the routine of getting the kids ready for school, a particularly cruel kind of chaos, since in my previous life as a person on more intimate terms with boredom, I could barely manage to get on a pot of coffee, shower, and read the morning paper before 9 a.m. Now, I have to get two kids ready for school. In case you don’t know from personal experience, it is easier to build a car from scratch using only a bag of tin cans than it is to get two small kids ready for school on a cold winter morning — or any morning, really. Frigid temperatures somehow make everything that much harder. Even smoothing peanut butter over the entire surface of one slice of bread seems nearly impossible for some reason when it is 8 degrees outside.
Now, if all this seems like complaining, it isn’t. Not quite. I do not under any circumstances want to go back to the days of boredom. I would just like a bite of it now and then. I want to spend an afternoon alphabetizing my record collection by genre, or watching a “Green Acres” marathon on TV Land, or reading a lurid biography about Rod Stewart, if there is one. And, if there isn’t, I suppose I could at least finish Suttree.