Love & Shandyism


I have just returned from walking my girlfriend to U-Bahn Hermannplatz and seeing her off. She’s flying back to London today. I have no other plans but to write today. I haven’t written anything since Friday a.m., and I’ve dealt with it pretty well, but last night it started to get to me and probably would’ve been much worse if we hadn’t gone to the bar.

From now on, I’m calling my girlfriend Erica on this blog. The name is the Latin of her real name and was her 3rd choice when I asked her what she wanted to be called. Her first two choices were duds and I had to reject them.

Erica and I originally met three years ago in the bar we went to last night which is called Travolta. The night we met she tells me I was totally drunk and that’s why she kept looking at me. Not sure I believe her, although I did drink a flask of vodka on the way into the bar, and somehow we ended up sitting at the same table. Then my friend Bernd, a six-foot-six-two-hundred-eighty-pound-Teuton-got-up-like-Johnny-Cash plunked down between us.

“Soooooo, Mike,” he said, in his thundering bass-baritone. “Wait, she’s not the Polish girl. Wha? A new one? Huh?”

I’d made out with a Polish girl the week before. I pretended I didn’t hear what he’d said and introduced the two of them. A few minutes later, he worked his screw in again.

“Have you told her how old you are yet, Mike? C’mon, fess up.”

“43,” I muttered, and cursed him under my breath. Erica was only 24 at the time. Nevertheless, we kept talking, mostly about books. Her favorite was One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Marquez, and she knew the first line by heart.

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

I was impressed, both by the first line and that she’d remembered it. I told her a few of my favorite books, one which was The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne, and she’d read that too, which shocked me. I’d never met anyone who’d heard of Sterne, let alone read him and got his brilliant Irish wit.

I cursed Bernd again.

Then I got up from the table and lit a cigarette at the bar. Erica now says I did that to hide from her the fact of my smoking, and she’d be right, although if I really wanted to hide it I would’ve gone outside. The bar was only 10 feet away.

After that night, I started seeing Erica every week at Travolta, but didn’t do anything except once when I invited her to sleep at my place because it was closer. She told me she couldn’t that night because she had to work early the next morning, but said maybe some other time. So that confirmed it. But I still rested on my chesterfields. I’ve always been slow to act. I’m no Lothario, nor do I try to be. I go to bars for drinks and crackajabloking and good conversation, everything else must arrive by itself. So I sat back and watched as this 26-year-old Welshman started buying Erica drinks, and stealing my seat, and blockading me from her, trying to court her. A month or two went by like that and finally I got a haircut and trimmed my toenails and made my move. I challenged Erica – no that’s not true – I commanded her to memorize the first line of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman and present me with the results the following week.

The first line goes as follows:

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were doing; – that not only the production of a rational Being was concern’d in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind; – and for ought they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost: – Had they duly weighted and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly, – I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.

She memorized it to the letter, and soon after we went out on our first date at a beer kneipe, and soon after that we were making out in the back of some dark bar in Mitte, and I looked out the window and saw the Welshman looking at us, his mouth hanging open, his face pale as a toad’s belly. He took a slow drag from his cigarette and stood there decomposing in his cloud of blue smoke.

Poor sod. I felt sorry for him. I really did! I tried to think of what I could do to help but for some reason was all out of ideas. I turned to Erica and we continued.

5 thoughts on “Love & Shandyism

  1. This is an interesting coincidence: I just recently finished both novels that you and Erica favor: everyone among my two or three literary acquaintances here in MN kept telling me that I MUST read Marquez because he’s the best; so I checked out “Solitude” and loved it (tho I respectfully cast my BEST vote for José Saramago, either for “Blindness” or “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” or etc.); also I have, until recently, kept “Tristram Shandy” in a stack which I planned to read with my own sweetheart (Joy); and we got to it and finished it this year: we read the whole thing aloud: it’s a sacred text to us.

    (By the way, for me, one word is easily worth a thousand pictures, so I always honor what is written over the obligatory image; but you entice me to ask: What is that photo or pic at the top of the post? It looks like maybe an old 4:3 silent film in glorious black and white.)

    The beginning of “Shandy” made an impression on me, but I wouldn’t have focused on it with laser precision if you hadn’t relayed your COMMAND here, ha! So much of that book is worth getting by heart. But that is one goddamned good first sentence. …Admittedly it angers me a little, whenever I read it—I mean this as a roundabout compliment to Sterne—despite enjoying the lighthearted irony of the passage, I can’t help slipping into serious umbrage at my OWN parents for not having sufficiently “minded what they were about when they begot me”!

    Would you believe it? I actually use a nice quote from you yourself (you typed it online during one of our exchanges and I saved it—I wonder if you remember it) as an anecdote to my too-serious and resentful tendencies toward my parents (which were both decent people after all and thus do not deserve my ridicule, I hate to admit)—you said: “…it’s a mistake to make anything more of life than the effort it took to create it.”

  2. You have mentioned several times how you and Joy read out loud together. I think that’s cool, and it’s even cooler that she’s got awesome literary tastes. Anyone who considers Tristram Shandy a sacred text is my kind of person, and the opening line I too have related to my parents. How could you not! Hahaha. As for my line, I must’ve been drinking when I wrote it, but I do remember it. Glad you do too! Our lives are really senseless when we think of their origin. But there’s some clarity in the thought too, in a door of perception kind of way. Okay, now I’m babbling.

    This IS a photo of an old 4:3 silent film. Wow, nothing gets past you! Hahaha. I took the pic at the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum here in Berlin, and actually cut the other half of the photo off. There were 2 screens running concurrently next to each other showing different films. Now I’m thinking I should’ve kept the other half in.

    • O wow! I’m surprised that the photo really is of a film! – I guess I half expected you to say: No it’s my phone snapping a pic outside of a bus window, or something like that. But I’m glad to know that I apparently own a 6th sense for the squarish aspect ratio. (Nerd prestige!) …And for the record, when you say “now I’m babbling,” I translate that as “now things’re getting extremely interesting!!”

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