I think, perhaps, there are too many dudes living in this apartment. The din of high fives. The groaning floors and walls. The wet spots. The rattling electronic equipment. The male odors of various and disquieting provenance. Our quaint, slightly cramped two bedroom has taken on some sort of hybridized character between lacrosse locker room and U-boat. Pushing aside a precarious skyline of mostly-empty beer bottles spurs a pang of guilt in me; I never chipped in for these and certainly never will. One tips over and spills a bit of tepid, shit beer on my pant leg. Out, damned spot! This is no place for me to try to get my act together. The grim union of heroin den aesthetic and middle school hangout room isn't conducive to much of anything. S____ turns on the Xbox. I must make my escape.
The main branch of the New York Public Library is a wonderful place for pretending to make progress. It is regal. It demands greatness. Its woodiness connotes beard-strokes and the delicate biting on the tip of a pencil, eyes raised upward, as one considers the wording of an email to parents, asking for money. The library gives me the opportunity to say "Beaux Arts masterpiece" in casual conversation-which I hope is worth the risk of eventually getting beat up.
In the months before I graduated, I would often wake up before dawn under a swell of anxious terror as I considered the community I was about to be released from. Demographically, college is for the most part a den of America's worst-east coast ids in sweatpants and uggs. But miserable peers are still peers, and to be a man without context, a feckless monad without room numbers to memorize and quads to cut-this to me was exile.
To sit in the NYPL's reading room is to be ostensibly part of some enterprise, and to feel good for it. There's nothing I look forward to more than a friend asking some variation of "So, what exactly… do you do every day?" My usual response would be something along the lines of "Oh, ha ha, yes, wonderful, I was hoping you would ask that unintentionally devastating question. But before I answer-my word! Look! Look behind you! Some sort of explosion! It's a bear, exploding!" and then I leap out the nearest window.
But now I have an answer. In the library, it is safe. So what that my new peers include this unfortunate looking young woman playing Farmville on a late-90s Toshiba laptop? We're all on the same team. The gentleman next to me is presenting himself with a rapid fire slideshow of a slender woman's vacation photo album on Facebook. He hammers his right arrow key, eyes wide in wonder, no doubt planning some sort of future sex crime in his head.
I gingerly unpack the same three books I've been carrying along with me each day and lay them down at carefully calculated angles so that their titles will be visible to those at the table. Every afternoon I create this same still life, a diorama of the aspiring writer at work. A glass box could be put up around me and shipped to the Museum of Natural History-"Bearded 23-Year-Old Hominid Slowly Writing First Book Proposal." I'm hoping that fleshing out my idea for a book will keep my brain from atrophying too much in the interim before some sort of stable work. My intuition is that hoping to support oneself as a writer hasn't quite reached the status of, say, hoping to support oneself as a professional dinosaur hunter or as a poet. Perhaps somewhere between poet and glassblower in terms of viability? A woman in a striped dress seats herself across the table from me. We make eye contact and I hurriedly snatch up my copy of A Hegel Dictionary and squint at it as she engrosses herself in her computer, which emits a sudden Gmail IM chime. I am unsure of who is fooling whom here. She looks at my backpack, which I've had since 10th grade, and I am reminded, with shame, that men in New York are not to carry backpacks, but rather some sort of bespoke tote or rugged leather messenger bag filled with iPads. "You nerd! You damned out of town nerd! With that backpack! What are you, from fucking Kansas?" she thinks at me.
The day wanes and I've filled up another page and I'm satisfied. I join R___ and K___, and the three of us rendezvous with another mutual friend and some summer bankers at a hellacious Washington Square sports bar. Were one to hand a 15-year-old boy a check for twenty thousand dollars to renovate his basement, this establishment might be the result. The three rotund, ruddy bankers are seated at a damp table and doodling on a large paper towel, chuckling and leering at each other. I sit down on a stool and introduce myself. "Hey! Nice to meet you man. Hey! Nice to meet you man. Hey! Nice to meet you." Well, then.
The blonde one next to me abruptly lifts her head, as if directed by scent, her eyes a little watery.
"So where do you go to school," she asks.
"Oh, I actually just graduated," I say.
"Oh, congraaaa-aaats! Where are you working now?" she asks.
"Oh, well, I'm still looking for work right now," I say.
"Oh okay!" she beeps, and starts playing tic-tac-toe by herself with a blue pen. I smile. Her friend, with one of those pristine Republican haircuts that seems like it came from some sort of kevlar mold, pokes her in the shoulder and starts talking about Dave Matthews tickets. The paper towel sheet is almost at capacity and the trio seem frustrated. I'm glad I didn't order a drink, but I could use a water. I'm a little tired and ready to go home, but eager to sit down in the library again.
Sam Biddle is a recent college graduate in New York City.
Photo by audrey_sel from Flickr.