I’m walking down 8th and Olive in the hot afternoon and I stop at the corner of the street, waiting for the light to change, and when it does I look both ways and step off the curb. A girl in a red skirt and a flower in her hair passes swiftly by, and when I step onto the curb again I feel the phone in my back pocket begin to vibrate.
“Hey little bro,” he says to me, and then, “hang on. Hang on just a sec.”
I walk into the old hotel and toward the elevator doors and step inside before they close.
I wait in silence for what seems like a small eternity, surrounded by three mirrored walls trimmed with red velvet, and then the doors open and I walk out toward the doorway, still on hold, the blue sky and the tops of buildings cut out in a rectangle. I step through the door and the sound of traffic comes back within earshot and a car honks and the breeze on the roof is punctuated by the accent of a slow beat from the speakers near the pool.
He comes back on the line.
“Hey, sorry about that. So, what did you want to talk about?”
I think carefully for a moment before answering. “I don’t know,” I say, “Everything. Nothing.”
There’s a silence on the other end.
“Well, I don’t know what you really had in mind by calling earlier, but thanks,” he says.
“Not a problem”, I say.
“Have you talked to the parents?” he asks me.
“Yeah, I call Dad or he’ll call me when he gets the chance. It’s not scheduled or anything. Just when he can or when I can.”
“Good, he says,” sternly. There is a skepticism in his tone.
“What about you?” I ask him.
“What about me what?” He replies.
“Have you talked to the parents?”
“Everyday,” he says, without hesitation, and then continues, “I call the house at 8:30 every night. Just to check in, you know.”
“Mm-hmm,” I sound out.
I hear someone talking to him in the background.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about really?” he asks, present again.
“What’s the rush?” I ask him. “I thought we had we had some time. You never answer when I call.”
“There’s no rush,” he says, ”I just have to get through the next chunk of work so that I can move on from it, you know. There’s this project that my group is working on, so gotta’ talk to the team and triple check work and write reports and rinse and repeat to make it all happen again tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t know anything about that I guess,” I say.
“Funny,” he says, dryly, but still aware of the joke.
“So what about you funny guy?” He asks this seriously, and I imagine him with his forearms on the edge of his desk, hands crossed in front of him. He takes a moment in the space between the next question. “What have you been doing?”
“To be honest with you,” I say, “what I’ve been doing feels like a whole bunch of bullshit.”
He doesn’t say anything after I say this, as if waiting for me to say more, so I continue.
“I guess I thought that by doing this, I would be doing exactly what I wanted to do, which is to make art and be out in the world and meet people. To live that dream I guess, but it’s a big task, and right now I feel like I’m drowning.”
I can hear him breathe on the other side.
“The more I get into it,” I add, “the more that I do it, the more that it feels like I left a career for something fickle and vain.”
“It’s all transitory,” he says. “I wouldn’t worry too much about the fickleness of it little brother. We’re all just passengers, passing through.”
“About vanity though” he adds, “I don’t really know what to tell you. It can get you a lot, for sure, if you put in the work, but it can be a drain on someone like you.”
“I don’t think I understand where I want to be right now, so I have to ask myself if I was wrong.
“Mm-hmm,” he says.
“What’s the point, you know?” I tell him.
“You have you to stop digging your own grave,” he says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“You have to stop with all of this what’s the point bullshit,” he says, “that’s the real bullshit that you should be worried about Julian.”
“Well then, what the fuck am I supposed to talk to you about then?”
“Calm down,” he says, “Look. I don’t want to press you on this, just keep that in mind, but I’m not selling it to you as advice either. Just something to consider.”
“Yeah,” I say, “I know.”
“See,” he says, “you say that, but I don’t think that you actually know Julian. And even how you said it gave me the impression that you don’t actually believe that you know either.”
“So now you care?” I tell him, and then neither of us says a word.
“The grass is always greener on the other side,” he says, “And unfortunately, the only people that can convince us of anything are ourselves.”
I clear my throat a little.
“True conviction,” he adds.
“I just don’t want flail and wander about my life and do everything halfway and then leave it for later,” I say.
“Then don’t leave it for later,” he says.
“I’m trying,” I tell him.
“There’s a huge problem with that though,” he says, “trying.”
“There is no try in this game Julian,” he says, “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you this. There is no time for the good old College try.”
“Life itself is simply too important,” he continues, “but you know that and I don’t need to remind you of that.”
“That can be another conversation,” I say.
“Sure,” he says, and then, “just think about it first please. Don’t just wing it.”
“I just want to ride into the sunset,” I say.
He eases up and I can see him shaping a smile on the other side.
“Be serious,” he says.
“I just don’t know what I’m doing,” I say. “And I don’t know why I’m doing it and I feel like I’m wasting my time.”
He lets out a big sigh on the other end of the line.
“Look,” he says, “I have to go, but it was good talking to you brother. All I’m going to tell you is that you’re smart, you’re good looking, and you got the drive, but I don’t think you’re using your brain in the way that it should be used. You’re wasting it everyday.”
“You have an OK head on your shoulders,” he tells me, “but it needs to be better. You need to be better Julian.”
“Yeah,” I say, “thanks.”
“You got a lot of potential kid, but you’re wasting your time in that city.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say.
“Next time you call me,” he says, “please have whatever you’re going to tell me ready, if not, no offense little brother, but don’t waste my time.”
I don’t say anything.
“Just keep that in mind, please,” he says.
“Alright duder,” I say, “I’ll talk you later. Love you man.”
“Love you too little bro,” he says, and then he hangs up.