Friday, September 22, 2006

The Bachelor Husband

I went out the other night, caring little for matters of grooming or personal hygiene. The event was a fiction reading at the Mountain bar in Chinatown. It was a student thing -- student organizers, student readers, students in the audience -- meant to showcase the talents of the writers in the creative writing program at USC.

I'd been working all that day, rewriting the opening of my book on Ukraine in preparation for sending it out to agents. I didn't really want to go -- thought I might still have a few productive hours left in the day -- but two of my classmates were reading, and I knew I might one day be the one on stage, so I went -- only right, I thought.

But I was either the distracted writer, or the bachelor husband. Maybe both. I've been the one before, but only since leaving Russia -- and, more importantly, my wife -- have I become the other, and maybe the combination is extreme.

I was running late, so whereas before I might have spent my final few minutes changing clothes, shaving, running some water through my hair, I instead opted to eat. Had apparently forgotten to do that much of the day, and it felt like I was carrying an anvil around inside my belly, the nagging weight of hunger. So I ate: beef chorizo and eggs, some bread, then a quick look around (nowhere) for an Altoid.

When I got to the bar, there were already maybe twenty-five or thirty people there, so many of them hip and clean, their eyes roving, turning, locking, the language of being single and heat-seeking missiles. I approached the bartender, conscious of my appearance. Jeans and a linen shirt, the latter pulled out of the former and wrinkled by use, the sleeves rolled to the elbows, the buttons not high against my throat. A two-day beard: that stage of facial hair which is not yet full of purpose, not yet soap-opera sexy. Then of course the lack of a shower and the searching self-examination, How about yesterday?

But as I sipped on a Pellegrino and looked around at all the others, I wondered what I was supposed to do? A single man dresses up and goes out. A married man is no slob. He at least throws himself together and joins his wife for a night on the town. But a married man, whose wife is seven thousand miles away due to the vagaries of the immigration system (the one thing not made more efficient in the age of computers and the global economy) this man is neither here nor there, a bachelor husband who doesn't feel at home out on the town or at home in the bedroom.

So if you bump into me, on the Metro, say -- yes, I'll be the other rider that day -- you might want to keep your distance, just in case it's one of those days when I'm proving my love without a razor and reminding myself I really should buy a bar of Irish Springs, because taking a shower with liquid soap only takes you so far.