As my fortieth birthday was imagined, my closest friends were to gather around a Porsche drinking martinis and practising their aim before setting fire to the Porsche. Obviously this was to happen in the desert and just as obviously it didn’t happen. Falling on a Wednesday gave pretext enough to scale back the celebrations to the lesser decadence of macaroons, prosecco, and watching Jane, Dolly and Lily take aim in 9 to 5.
This was probably for the best as in all likelihood I’d have discovered that I am not alone in my party plans and that Palm Springs is surrounded by other groups aspiring to a similarly elegant desperation. Emptiness and mortification could have only resulted.
Better then the mortification found on reading, in timely fashion, Greg Jackson’s “Wagner in the Desert”, which, at least on a personal level, distills C.S. Lewis’ belief that “we read to know that we are not alone” down to its bitter aftertaste. More specifically, dreams are rarely your own and that, like Tyler, of Coupland’s Shampoo Planet (“New skis! I can die now!”), vanity’s claim to orignality may have lost some of its credibility by the time it achieves the culturally recognizable perfection required by Instagram. (I cannot escape the feeling that mine is the generation in which Instagram finds its raison d’être but which by some failing of the market was came a decade too late. You can follow me here.)
After such humiliations, it is immensely reassuring to think that, in lieu of Porsches in the desert, degraded aspirations are just as flammable. Thanks to Jackson we see them burn in the lacquer of high-gloss prose.
First we did molly, lay on the thick carpet touching it, ourselves, one another. We did edibles, bathed dumbly in the sun, took naps on suède couches. Later, we did blow off the keys to ecologically responsible cars. We powdered glass tables and bathroom fixtures. We ate mushrooms—ate and waited, ate and waited. Then we just ate, emptied the Ziplocs into our mouths like chip bags. We smoked cigarettes and joints, sucked on lozenges lacquered in hash oil. We tried one another’s benzos and antivirals, Restoril, Avodart, YAZ, and Dexedrine, looking for contraindications. We ate well: cassoulets, steak frites, squid-ink risotto with porcini, spices from Andhra Pradesh, Kyoto, Antwerp. Of course we drank, too: pure agaves, rye whiskeys, St-Germain, old Scotch. We spent our hot December afternoons next to the custom saltwater pool or below the parasols of palm fronds, waiting, I suppose, to feel at peace, to baptize our minds in an enforced nullity, to return to a place from which we could begin again.
Read the rest of Greg Jackson’s story at the New Yorker.