Maybe I should call her. It's been so long, and I miss her so long some days. There's probably a statute of limitations for calling up old girlfriends out of the blue, but I don't know if I really care about that right now. Because I'm still sitting at the same desk, looking at the same blank screen trapped in the same deafening silence of my own restless mind. It feels good to walk down memory lane from time to time, and it offered me quite the distraction from the task at hand. I've never really had to procrastinate in my life; grade school and college offered little challenge, but I got myself into the habit of finishing my work prior to goofing off. It's an approach that has stuck even to this day, so I find it difficult and aggravating being forced to not do work. I need another cigarette. I try to cut down or quit, but it never seems to stick. It's one of the few things about me I wish I could change. Even still, there's no fighting it now. I refuse to smoke indoors, so I take to the porch behind my house. There's a nice lounge chair out there that I altered to have an ashtray built right into the armrest. I'm quite proud of that. Nicotine is an odd beast. Even back in my Philly days I never took hard drugs with extreme addictive qualities. They weren't really Douglas' scene, and the few of his friends that would offer me coke were easy enough to politely decline. The cravings for nicotine are strange. When they start, they're never obvious enough. It's not that you know immediately that you want a cigarette. You just feel something immaterial gnawing at your insides. There's a hole somewhere inside you that you can't fill no matter how you try. It's uncomfortable, but not unbearable. It's only after you realize that the act of smoking makes these feelings go away that you make the connection and begin to actively crave cigarettes. It's when the irritability hits that you really have to do something about it.
I pull out my cell phone and call Douglas. We try to keep in contact as much as we can, but we haven't spoken on the phone for over six months. I get congratulatory cards from him whenever a new book hits the stands, but that's been the extent of our recent contact. He picks up after the third ring. "George, buddy! How the fuck are you? Fuck, it's been ages!" Douglas was as enthusiastic and vulgar as ever.
"Eh, I'm doing all right I guess. Still getting used to the complete lack of hustle and bustle out here in the middle of nowhere. Remind me, you're still trolling the streets of Philly, yes?"
"Nah, I got out months ago. Too many fucking guns, man. Really ruins your good spirits watching the news, you know? I followed in your footsteps and headed out to Cali. Frisco, to be precise. I don't know what the fuck is wrong with you, George. I fucking love it out here."
"Pretty sure LA and San Fran are pretty different scenes, Doug."
"Yeah, you're probably right. So how's the new book going? I've heard some rumors." Apparently, my writing difficulties were beginning to make waves among the literary upper crust.
"I don't know what's going on. I'm lost and nothing's coming out of my head but garbage. Ellen and Jeffrey are starting to get nervous." Ellen is my publicist and Jeffery is my editor at Harper Collins.
"Seriously? Fuck them, man! After all the money you've made them? You tell those cocksuckers to go suck on some talentless hack's dick and see how it tastes. Fucking leeches, god!" Talking to Douglas when he gets animated is not unlike being in the middle of a Tarantino film. "You need to relax, buddy. Get your mind off the work. Take a tab, find some loose pussy, do something that doesn't involve writing."
"I stopped dropping acid years ago, Doug. And where the hell am I going to find loose women? I'm in Vermont. I know every single person in this little town. I'm trapped."
"Well, shit, man. Get your ass out to the coast and I'll take care of ya."
"My publicist will fucking kill me if I take a vacation now…Hey Doug, when's the last time you talked to Vickie?" I didn't really like calling her that nickname, but Douglas only referred to her as Vickie.
"I don’t know, maybe a couple months ago. She's still in Philly far as I know. You gettin' bit by the fuck bug?" Such a horrifying phrase. I didn't even ask him before he offered to text me her cell number. "Hey, knock 'em dead, stud. I always thought you crazy kids were perfect for each other. Get into a car, drive down to Old City, fuck her brains out for a weekend, come back and writing the greatest fucking book ever known. I know you have it in you. Seriously, no bullshit. You are a great friend and an even greater storyteller. And don't fucking wait six months before you call me again, dick."
"Alright, Doug. I'll talk to you soon."
I lit another cigarette. Conversations with Douglas have a tendency to be somewhat mentally draining. Still, it was good to talk to an old friend and get my mind off the work that isn't going to be done any time soon. A few seconds after I hang up, my phone starts buzzing and there, clear as day, is Victoria's phone number, still with the 267 Philadelphia area code. The phone buzzes again; Douglas has also seen fit to send along a quite graphic visual aid that I don't need to explain or show to anyone ever again for the rest of my life. I hastily delete it from my phone. That crazy bastard. I couldn't call Victoria now. I need a plan. Some kind of reason to see my long lost love other than professional frustration and personal longing. I decide to call Ellen and give myself a less transparent reason to return to Philadelphia.
She picks up the phone staggeringly quickly. "How many pages?" Who needs hellos?
"You wouldn't want to know. I can, however, write a pretty stirring and exacting novella about the wall in my writing room, but I doubt that would interest you." I reply, trying to sound both resolute and dejected at the same time. I'm aiming for pity. Seems like I fail, especially considering her exasperated sigh.
"So are you going to call Jeffrey or should I?" This is what our relationship has become. No hellos or how-are-yous, just a ravenous hunger for finished pages and the paycheck that follows them. We used to be friends. We used to be cordial.
"Come on, now. We don't need to tell Jeffrey every little thing now, do we?"
"What do you want, George? I have things to do."
"I need you to set up a signing."
"You're kidding, right? This book's supposed to be on the shelves in two months, we haven't seen a treatment, a synopsis, a single written word about it, and now you want to go on a signing tour? Are you trying to give me an aneurysm?" I'm starting to wonder if it's even worth going through this trauma. Then I see Victoria's face in my mind's eye and I make the decision to soldier on.
"Did I say tour? Will you fucking listen to me? I want one signing. One. In Philly. Old City. I need to go back to my writing roots. I need to see old friends. I need inspiration. And I need a reason to go back there. So I want to do a high profile signing that everybody in the tri-state area is going to know about and want to go to. Print ads, TV, whatever you can do. I want it to be big."
There's a long pause as Ellen mulls over the amount of work this entails and weighs the work output of a happy writer compared to a frustrated one deep in the mire of writer's block. Finally, she speaks. "Fine. I'll email you the details when I confirm a date. Even the bums are going to be lined up for this one. Should I set up airfare to Philly International?" She's already starting to cheer up. She's aching for something to do, and I just gave it to her. I can hear it in her voice.
"Nah, I think I'm going to drive." You could audibly hear Ellen every time she shrugged. It's a hell of a thing, and because of it I could tell she reacted with a shrug.
"Whatever works, George. I'll let you know soon. And please try to get something down on paper for all of our sakes."
"I'll do my best, Ellen. Goodbye."
Excitement grips me as I end the call. The spark is back. I haven't felt this way in months. I try to write again, but too many thoughts are buzzing around my head to focus. I'm hungry. Haven't eaten anything since a meager English muffin for breakfast. I would eat, then I would have to do something that didn't involve writing whatsoever. Perhaps a movie. I think I've done enough for today.