In university girls didn't take to me immediately so I started using the pages I had written my stories on to roll cigarettes or for toilet paper. It didn't change the way girls acted towards me right away. But I would say that in the end it did. It definitely did.
I wanted to eat every day, but only once a day. Sometimes I didn't eat at all. I was busy smoking my stories. I spent all my money on tobacco and sometimes people bought me lunch. Lunch is the meal you need if you plan to eat only once a day, because, obviously, it is strategically located. Though, of course, it's even better if it's a late lunch.
So what else does a person need besides a late lunch, tobacco, and stories to smoke the tobacco in?
Not a lot, really, though perhaps love?
Life is possible without love. Life is infinitely more complicated without tobacco.
For a while I went without a beard. If you had asked me a month ago about what happened you would have been asking for trouble and tears. Now I can talk about it with some measure of calmness.
One day as I was walking on campus I attempted to light one of my stories, which I had rolled very poorly (as poorly, you could say, as the stories had been written!), and the flame went running up the paper and onto my beard. When I finally did make it to class that day, with my beard shaved away, the girls all started noticing me. I don't know if it was the absence of the beard, or the bravado of my new beardless attitude: now that the beard had disappeared nothing seemed to matter. I suppose it was a bit of both.
Anyway, it was snowing nearly everyday, and I found myself beardless. And not only that, but with very promising amorous prospects as well.
The day after I lost my beard a girl looked at me while I was settling into a seat in the back corner of the library. And the look was playful.
That night the wind blew so hard outside my window I thought it was going to break the glass and fill my room with snow. So I slept on the floor in the kitchen.
The next day when I sat down in my spot with the bad kids at the back of my Russian class, another girl looked at me and smiled outright.
If you always get food caught in your beard, then it becomes a reflex to wipe it away when someone smiles and points at a spot – you don't even think about it.
'I don't have a beard,' I said. 'What could you possibly want?'
She looked away in confusion.
The next day it was the same thing.
So much confusion.
Eventually, I grew accustomed to the attention and adapted. I started chatting to people in public and giving high fives. I stopped reading books, and started dancing.
I danced in clubs and in my kitchen after dark, and left the books in my back pocket for everyone else to see.
On a good day it was 'Faust.' On a lesser day it was 'Notes from the Underground.'
But that was purely accidental, and I hadn't thought of it purposely. I had long since stopped thinking of things. Thinking was a thing of the past. Now we danced.
But I still had no money, and actually, while on the outside everything seemed all wonderful and interesting and universitylike, dancing just made everything worse. When I had a beard I could stay at home and read and I felt no compunction about it. Now I absolutely pined after the nightlife.
At first I started hanging out and letting other people pay, but all the people who had previously supported me because I fit their image of the starving bearded artist now despised me. And the people who danced, though it's certainly not my place to judge, didn't care that much about others, though again, it's not my place to judge, I really just didn't understand their culture.
So I wound up staying at home in the end.
And that was just dreadful. And I started to lose my marbles.
I wore my scarf at home because it was so cold, and that wasn't the same as the time I wore my jeans to bed just to see what it would be like. I thought – I wonder what it would be like to go to bed in my jeans. And so I did it. I must say didn't like it.
I did, however, enjoy the scarf. I enjoyed it thoroughly, though, as they say, it was done for necessity. It was really cold.
My socks all had holes in them, 'though I don't mind in the least. It lends me a Victorian dignity,' I thought.
At this time I started elbowing people in crowds. And if people were looking in the other direction I would make faces when they coughed. One time I was walking through the fruit section just looking and smelling, and a kid cut me off and grazed me with his basket. So I lost it and in my rage smacked him and he went flying into the avocadoes. Someone saw me do it and grabbed me by the jacket and a crowd gathered. I started to cry and got really mixed up and said it was an accident and that I had just wanted to scare him. And then I said that he was a common thief and that I had seen him here many times stealing fruit and that I could no longer bear the thought of fruit being stolen and that I was no nark so I took justice into my own hands. I said a lot of other things which I won't repeat because they might make you uncomfortable. The people became so uncomfortable and embarrassed they let me go and gave me a lot of free food. Which was a godsend actually, because I had very little money and was surviving on mustard and bread. And tobacco, of course.
This incident changed things and for a while I didn't act out because I was too afraid of punishment. I retired to my cave and gnawed at my wounds in privacy.
One night I broke down and bought a bottle of Gin and drank it straight. My roommate kicked me out because he was bigger than me and teetotal. It was snowing outside and the flakes were coming down big and light.
'Look at the snow,' he said. And threw me out.
I walked around in the darkness and breathed deeply, it was very beautiful, and ended up passing out somewhere along the way under a bush.
I seemed to have dropped my cigarettes there so the next day I went back to get them but I couldn't find the bush.
I had all these memories from the night, standing looking in windows, walking along in the wet snow making up poems that were very beautiful, reciting them aloud.
It occurred to me that if I could find the spot again not only would I be able to smoke but I would also be able to remember some of the poems and they'd win her over, whoever she was. But I never did. Which is a mystery to me. Where had I gone? And more importantly, where were my cigarettes?
When I went home my roommate threatened to break my rib bones if I ever got in his face about Gandhi again. He said he didn't like it because he could smell the alcohol on my breath.
I said the whole thing was a mystery to me, but that's why alcohol was in such demand, because it put a little bit of the mystery back into life which modern science has stolen; but I would respect his personal space nonetheless.
I said the thing about science because he was a biology major and I never missed a chance to remind him that science didn't scare me at all. His nostrils flared, and I walked slowly but surely towards my room. And I stayed there for quite a long time after moving all my furniture and belongings in front of the door.
After a couple of days I left my room and my home for what seemed to be the first time in years! But for what was in reality only the first time in a couple of days. There was snow on the ground, it was wet – man, it's always wet! – and I thought: yes, it is possible, I'll never accept that it is not, I'll just bet that some people live in this world and are happy, and the season changes for them every single day, and the snow is always wet or dry, and I wonder, what other wonderful things do they see…..? What a life!
And I walked over to the supermarket, having forgotten about the incident a few days before, which was extremely unlike me, to take a walk through the fruit section.
But when I got there I was unpleasantly shocked. There was someone really beautiful in the fruit section. She was just walking around and not even looking at the fruit. What could she possibly need there!? She was just walking around in the fruit section. 'Move on!' I wanted to say. 'Get a move on out of the fruit section,' but I couldn't, I didn't have the guts, I was a chicken. And the real reason I wanted her to move on was – she was so beautiful. I know it sounds stupid and not witty at all, but it's the truth. She was that beautiful.
I wondered to myself - could it be, could she be, waiting for me?
It seemed unlikely.
And then the store manager, who had asked me never to come back, walked by.
And saw me.
And started to walk over to me.
And she sensed that something was wrong and stopped just walking around and looked over at me. 'Move on,' I wanted to say, 'get going.' She was that beautiful. Geez.
'What are you doing here?' The manager had every right to ask me that. 'Go on, get out of here. What do you want?'
She looked over at me and I don't know if it was a smile of pity, or if it was a smile at a scene, or a smile of understanding because she had also behaved badly in this very fruit section, or a smile that was pleased to find something to alleviate the boredom of strolling around in the fruit section; whatever it was she smiled so wonderfully that I filled up with spirit and looked straight at the manager and said, very proudly, 'I am leaving. There is nothing here that I want.' And I walked out into the snow.
From the parking lot I walked to the street where I had been the night I got lost and slept under a bush. I walked up and down it, back and forth, for maybe an hour or two. Though all the events seemed very random, though they seemed to be just one little insignificant thing after another I thought about them for an hour or two on that street, I had plenty of time to think over what had happened and I decided that they were all - can I say it? - very important.
From there I went back to the parking lot, it was already dark, and I tried to see in through the window to the fruit section, I wanted to get another look at that smile. Was she there? Was the smile? Not as far as I could see. As it was dark and the snow was coming down I didn't mind. Until I turned around and she was standing there looking at me.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' I asked.
'What are you doing in the parking lot?' She asked back.
'That's a fair question but I happen to have an easy answer – they won't let me in so I have to stand out here.'
'They kicked me out too,' she said, 'so now we share something.'(It was so improbable! But that's what she said!)
And then she looked at me and smiled the same smile again!
But I need to ask - can I be forgiven if I try to wax eloquent about a girls smile? Is there at least one other person out there who will understand me and won't say, 'oh, come on, enough with the smiles already; maybe you wanna talk about your dreams and kisses and babies too? So maybe give us a break, eh?' Is there at least one other person out there who understands, maybe a person who has a beard or crooked teeth and who gets smiles like that from girls so rarely that when they do they are willing to write a whole story about it, and not only that!? Because the story is the least of it, the story is nothing at all compared to the nights you go to bed with a smile on your own face remembering it; the story is nothing at all compared to the way it stops you from elbowing people in the crowd, and grimacing at people who cough, and just going to class and work and not feeling bad about life at all. The smile is beautiful, man, she was beautiful.
We didn't say anything else to each other but we both smiled and went on our ways. It was a great night, and if I can be forgiven for writing about a smile perhaps I can be forgiven for one more ridiculous remark, maybe I can get away with saying just one more silly thing – I think that smile saved my life(oh, I know, it sounds so silly, how could it save a life? Smiles don't save lives, firemen save lives. Next thing I'm going to say beauty will save the world and smiles can put out fires. But it's true! Smiles can save the world! Smile at people! Especially you girls! And especially at people with beards! All you girls out there smile at people with beards!)