July 24, 2020: “Winter Montage, Hoboken Station” by Tobias Carroll

Happy Friday, Story366!

Today is Opening Day for Major League Baseball! Only it’s not—yesterday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball! Since the Cubs didn’t play last night, I didn’t consider that there’d be other games. There were, one of which was rained on and finalized after six innings, a fitting end to this particular start. Tonight at six, on ESPN, the Cubs play the Brewers, the first real game since their ultra-disappointing 2019 season. I’m pretty excited, because it’s just something I like, returned, another pursuit to distract me from the horribleness that is 2020.

Do I need baseball every day back in my life? Probably not. In fact, no. Since this version of the Cubs has been good, dating back to 2015, I’ve watched 95 percent of their games—the ones I wasn’t beer-vending at, anyway. That’s a huge time commitment for something I’m not personally involved in, something that merely entertains me, as opposed to something that accomplishes anything. I’ve had to busiest summer of my life so far, taking on classes several classes, paired with home-schooling my own two boys. Time has gone by faster than in any part of my life, and days slip away—as of me writing this sentence, it’s not noon, but the next time I’ll check, it’ll be time for dinner, then time for everyone to go to bed. That’s how it’s been since March, the clocks on fast forward.

I’m not sure I can find three hours in a day to accommodate a baseball game. In the past, I’ve tried having it on in the background, working at the same time, which would be a great fix. Only I don’t really concentrate on either, especially not my work, and I end up watching the game. More often than not, I’ve planned my days around the Cub game, and in turn, my family has had their lives planned on that schedule, too. Can I afford that now? No, no I can’t.

Welcome back, baseball. I will enjoy you tonight, root for my beloved team, and applaud the collaboration that has made this venture possible in these times. Not sure about what happens tomorrow, though. Go Cubs!

For today’s post, I read from Tobias Carroll‘s 2016 collection, Transitory, out from Civil Coping Mechanisms. I only know Carroll’s work from stories I’ve read in journals, so I’m glad to have gotten my hands on this collection, to string some of his efforts together. Without further delay—Cubs on before you know it—here we go.

The stories in Transitory involve people on the move, as you might guess. Actually, four stories into the colleciton, it’s possible that the people is just one person, as all the narrators (but one) are unnamed and seem to be men in their thirties. It’s a composite narrator who seems between places, but also between times, between people, and between identities and motivations. The collection is existential and introspective, the characters observing and deconstructing, but usually not reacting, unless that reaction is leaving, moving on. This collection has a particular style, but is also a mindset, Carroll striking a unique and intriguing tone.

In “Winter Montage, Hoboken Station,” the lead story, a man obsessed with travel, maps, and locations agrees to meet an old friend for a drink, their paths crossing in the same city for the first time in years (which he chronicles for us in his head). They don’t remember not knowing each other, but they haven’t been in touch more than every few years for a while. They have both moved around, for school, for work, for other commitments, life taking over.

While the narrator prepares for this meeting, he gets, as promised, introspective about the past. It’s not that a simple kind of introspective, though. There’s some sentimentality involved, but our narrator thinks about the nature of time and memories and how all of that relates to seeing this person, now; he’s a person so ensconced in the past, but repositioning himself in the present. In some ways, it feels like the kind of thing you think about when you’re high and sitting on the couch of your first college apartment. In other ways, it’s growing up, realizing that things that happened to you twenty or thirty years ago don’t necessarily have bearing on your life now: They are memories and can stay there, if you so choose. Is this guy a weirdo, a heartless robot, or is he just accepting the fact that he and this old friend don’t need to be friends anymore, that no law says they have to keep in touch.

The meet-up at the bar is awkward. These are two men who are men now, no longer boys or even young men. They order whiskey in small glasses and sip on it as they exchange pleasantries. Then, as abstract as most of the rest of the story has been, this friend, Nathan, reveals something very concrete, something that’s been troubling him: He’s in love with his little brother’s girlfriend. He took a road trip with her and became infatuated, now can’t stop thinking about her, about them being together. When he sees his little brother with her, he’s repulsed and angered. Still, he knows that he can’t make a move. This emotion might not be reciprocated, but most of all, it’s his little brother. He is not so blinded by love that he misses the implications and consequences of such actions.

And this is why he wanted to talk to our narrator, his oldest friend, for advice. We’re even left wondering if the reason he’s come to town—a meeting with some attorney—is real, if he hadn’t made it up, just to travel all this way, just to talk to the only person who knows him, and his little brother, so intimately.

I won’t got any further into this story, which basically reverts to the more interior tone in its final lines, to thoughts of action instead of action. But it’s a deep, philosophical story, one with an appropriate ending, one that got me thinking about those types of encounters in my own life, with the equivalent kind of people.

“The Wenceslas Men” is about a guy, staying in friend’s apartment, who begins seeing shadowing humanoid-type figures outside his window every night. There’s a real Poe feel to this one, as we wonder if the man seeing these strange figures is sane or has been driven mad by some unknown catalyst.

“Last Screening of A Hoax Cantana” is about a similar-type man, one who remembers a cult film, A Hoax Cantana, from his youth. It’s the type of film passed around on VHS when he was a kid, probably the recording of a recording or a recording (and so on), a movie he and his friends would watch in someone’s basement after dark, or in a school classroom during an unchaperoned activities meeting. As the years went on, the film disappeared and reappeared, a copy showing up in a store, someone playing it at a party. It’s kind of like Room in that way, but it’s more magical, as the cut of the movie seems to change, and at some point, nobody remembers it, not even the people he’s sure he’s watched it with before. This is my favorite of the ones I’ve read, probably, because, well, it is.

“Airport Ghost Hotel Tour” is again about that type of man, this time named Marco, stuck between places. He’s at an airport hotel called the New Orleans. He has dinner in the Denny’s in the lobby and on his way to his room, runs into a guy named Otto, giving a ghost tour. Something about Otto and the mystery of these hotel ghosts grabs him, so he gives two fins over and they head off. For a while, the tour reveals nothing, and Marco even starts to think that he’s either been conned or he’s being led somewhere to be murdered. In the end, however, Otto delivers, though perhaps not in the way he’d guessed.

The stories in Tobias Carroll’s Transitory aren’t exactly plot-driven, nor do they feature a whole lot in terms of distinct resolution. That doesn’t get in the way of how good these stories are, these self-examining, bizarre, cerebral adventures that the characters partake in. I very much enjoyed this book, this approach to story, and look forward to absorbing more of it, to see where these characters go, and how. And why.

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