Betsy Shebang - Column for 2/19
Eugene and Shauna went back to cutting stuff up without saying anything
and I started writing again, afraid theyd catch me if I didnt. Its not
like they didnt know I was there. I couldnt really write anything
"What are you guys going to do when you get to Los Angeles?" Shauna
"I'm tempted to say I don't care."
"Well, if you did care, what would you do when you got there?"
"We're going to be writing some things together. We'll get jobs. I think
we're going to do all that stuff we talked about doing when we were
"You dont think its kinda flakey to go down there without a
"Well, this is kinda the opposite of flakey. Tobys so ambitious he cant
chew his food."
"See, thats what Im talking about. Im afraid these ambitions you guys
have arent going to be well served by the approach youre taking. Like,
youre going to get down there and nothings going to be any different from
the way it was before you left."
"Things are already different than they were before we left."
"How are they different?"
"Well, Im talking to you."
"Youre talking to me because youre here. When you run out of money and go
back where you came from, how are things going to be any
I stopped writing again.
"Things are already different because I dont know whats going to
happen. Im starting to figure out how important that is."
"Eugene...you don't want to go to Los Angeles." By now all the kitchen
sounds had stopped again.
"Yeah I do."
"It's not Portland."
"Why don't you stay here? I mean...if you stayed in Humboldt, you could
get a job at the University... and you could hang out with me."
"Why don't you come with us to L.A.?"
"I'm not going to go with you."
Shauna sounded like shed been practicing her speech in her head since wed
arrived. Actually, she always sounded like that. "For starters, if Im
killed in a traffic accident, I don't want the obituary to describe the
car I died in as hilarious. Second, I think Toby took this trip to avoid
dealing with his problems and I don't want to be with him when he stops
moving and they run over him. Third, I believe in getting what you want
by planning ahead. I've got a nice place to live here and I don't want to
spend the next three months sleeping in an L.A. parking lot because you
two couldn't get published."
"Okay." Eugene sabotages our trip by inviting her along, then he says
"Okay" like shed turned down having sugar in her coffee. I wanted to
strangle both of them.
Something on the stove boiled over. They shuffled kitchen stuff around
and I started scribbling again. A few minutes later we were eating
dinner. Shaunas a vegetarian. I kinda figured.
It was already pretty late, and for some reason I wanted to sleep all the
time now. I figured Shauna would drag Eugene into her room for one of
those un-negotiated naps that lovers take together when theyre still
testing the water, before they dive in. But when we brought in our stuff
from the car, Shauna disappeared into her room and closed the
door. Eugene wound up on the living room couch opposite me. I thought
about asking Eugene what was going on, but I just went to sleep. You dont
ask a pitcher about his perfect game in the third inning.
Eugene had already cleaned up his stuff when I woke up the next
morning. He and Shauna were in the kitchen, pouring cereal and chatting
like they were married. I wanted to get on the road as soon as
I joined them in the kitchen and nodded hello, taking a bowl from the
dishrack. Shauna immediately handed me the cereal and addressed the two
"So, Toby. And Eugene. I've been thinking."
"What have you been thinking?" I asked.
"I'd like to go with you guys on your trip."
There was a moment of silence where the spit-take should have been. I
guess nobody was too surprised.
"Cool," Eugene said.
I poured some vegan milk stuff Shauna had over my cereal. "Huh. It's not
like we're gonna be gone just for a weekend, you know."
"I mean, I don't know what's gonna happen on the trip."
Shauna gave that smirk Id already come to expect from her. "You don't
want me to go."
"Youve got a job here."
"Let me worry about that."
"Why do you want to go with us?"
"Why are you going?"
"I asked you first."
"Tell me why you're going."
"I'm going because I'm sick of avoiding responsibility. And I'm sick of
aiming low. So if I'm going to be a failure, I want to be the most
miserable failure on Planet Earth. Now, if you want to go be spectacular
failures with us, fine. But I really dont think youre eager to do
that. So Im wondering why youre saying you want to go with us."
"Toby, you say you want to write screenplays. And I think you haven't
even really tried to write screenplays. I don't know what you've been
doing with your time, but you haven't been writing screenplays. So there
must be another reason why you want to go. And I want to find out what
that reason is."
"Why do you want to find out what our reason is?"
"Because there are a lot of things I don't know."
"Can you drive a stick?"
She took a deep breath and crossed her arms. "Sortof, but not
I turned to him. "How many things should we let her bring?"
Shauna whipped her head over to face Eugene. "FIFTEEN?" Her hair slapped
her in the face.
I said "It's a small car."
Eugene continued. "And we should throw away half of your
Shauna stared at the car like wed asked her to bathe in a duck pond. "Its
a rolling dumpster," she said, for her own benefit, I guess. Didnt make
me feel any better.
"This car will do ninety, no problem."
"Sure, off a cliff."
"You dont have to go with us. Anyway, the engines good. And the brakes
are new. If the sunroof didnt leak, itd be perfect."
"We're all going to die."
"Yeah. If were gonna go, lets go."
Shauna had a carry-on bag with wheels and a folding handle that would have
fit perfectly behind my seat but she insisted on holding it on her
lap. She said she needed access to her hand sanitizer, but I figured her
reasons were more psychological. She wrapped her arms around it like a
kid in a hospital clings to a teddy bear, or the last bottle of
oxygen. She took the back seat, behind Eugene, and next to my
computer. I did my habitual circle around the car to make sure nothing
was going to fall off, and climbed in.
"Eugene, what's it smell like in here?"
"It's better that you not know."
Shauna pulled on the door handle to let herself out. "This door is
broken," she said.
I started the engine. "Yeah, it doesn't open from the inside. I'm
"Great." Shauna scowled and pulled her bag even closer. "The
Shaunas one of those people who can read in the car without wanting to
throw up, at least for a while; and shes also one of those people who hate
to let ten minutes go by without making some token gesture of
self-improvement. And this would not bother me, if it were her own self
she tried to improve, but she seems happy to improve any self thats handy,
which in this case meant my and Eugenes selves. So after she switched
seats with Eugene and we had been on the road for maybe two hours, she
pulled out her copy of Joseph Conrads Heart of Darkness and offered to
read aloud. I really dont know if she was trying to make a point about
our journey, or if this was meant to elevate Eugene and myself to a higher
plane of literary consciousness. Id never actually read it.
It was good to hear her read, though. She has a good voice for that sort
of thing, and as she reads, her smugness is replaced by an enthusiasm for
the grim story. She must have read for forty minutes before she put the
Eugene leaned forward from the back seat and said "You gonna stop
reading?" It was a different voice than hed used the night before. He
didnt want her to stop. He spoke as if, while she read, hed remembered
how much he liked her and how much he wanted to not blow it with her and
how much better and more attractive and more experienced she was than
either of us. He was scared to use any more words than absolutely
necessary because she might find fault with one of them and remember he
was a loser, a slug, a growth but not a grownup. I dont know why I heard
so much in one sentence from him, but it was all there, like the time on a
I dont know. Maybe it was the same voice as yesterday. I was getting
sick of trying to make sense of those two.
Shauna said "I'm getting kinda carsick."
Eugene said "I vote we stop for lunch."
We were passing through another of those rustic hippie biker towns in the
redwoods with a row of storefronts offering tattoos and woodstoves and
solar panels and "books for your spiritual journey". I said "Lemme know
if anyplace looks good."
Eugene replied "The tattoo place looks good."
Shauna said "Anyplace with a bathroom br>
"Probably she's going to do whatever we do, and we don't know what we're
gonna do yet."
"I think she's gonna take off."
"How's she gonna take off?"
"Toby, this isn't easy for her."
"So you're worried that after coming all this way with us, she's going to
leave before anything happens with you two."
"Come on. She thinks you're nuts and she thinks I'm an idiot."
"I think she thinks youre nuts too."
"Well, it's humiliating."
"Have you told her how you feel?"
"I think she's figured it out."
"But have you told her? In English? English is a good language, you
"No, I haven't told her."
"Well, then, you should tell her."
"Look I've been living at my grandmother's house for the last eight
years. I wouldn't date a loser like me right now. And it's not like I
have high standards."
"Eugene, I think she likes you."
"I just don't need to alienate the first woman who's spoken to me in, like
"Alienate her? She adores you."
"Toby, I'm a geek. Not even a computer geek, just a geek. I spent my
twenty-first birthday at a Dungeons and Dragons party. It was somebody
else's party! She's not like that. There's a class conflict."
"You don't live with your grandmother anymore. You live with me now. So
you're not a geek. You're a vagrant. Pretty soon, you'll be a starving
artist. You're moving up in the world."
"This is a novelty for her. When she gets her footing again, she's gonna
forget she ever spoke to either one of us."
"OK, lemme tell you how to make this work for you."
"And you're an expert?"
"I know one or two things. Anyway, you asked me, so just listen. If you
hint that you're interested and just kinda make yourself available to her
- as an option, you know - then anything could get in the way. The
weather put her in the wrong mood, whatever. But if you come right out
and tell her...or, dont even tell her: kiss her and see what she
does. She may turn you down. Fine, who cares? She turned you down. You
get to go off and live your life. She, on the other hand, if she turns
you down, she will spend the rest of her life... wondering what would have
happened if she had said yes. Y'see? If she strikes you down... you will
only become more powerful than she can possibly imagine."
"And how do you know this?"
"It's been done to me."
"A few people."
Copyright 2002 Betsy Shebang