Ten Thousand Hours
So there I was, he was, not me, I don’t even know why I said I when I meant he, clearly meant he, there he was, among friends. Not friends necessarily but he imagined they all had the definite propensity to become friends, could see them all one day doing friend-like activities together like weekend camping trips, weekend family camping trips once he got a family, or a potluck, some of them even becoming close friends, best of friends a couple of them, and maybe even one or two would become so close that when something extraordinary happened, when he had a child one day in the future or a parent or both parents died, would call this friend with his first phone call and tell them, weep over the phone maybe or maybe not weep, be stoic, but share this moment with this friend, best friend, new friend now but not new later when the something extraordinary happened, and feel that the happening would just not be quite as extraordinary if not for the telephone call the two of them shared.
It’s a potluck he’s at now, brought a bean dip and a bag of tortilla chips and a bottle of red wine even though the host said he didn’t have to, wasn’t necessary, wasn’t really invited until the last minute and maybe shouldn’t have even brought himself for that matter, but he did, she, the host, his neighbor, came over that afternoon to let him know she’d be having a party later that evening, “Not really a party,” she said, “really more of a potluck with a couple of friends, but I saw that it’s just underneath your apartment window and not that I think it’ll be especially loud or really any bother to you at all but I thought just in case I’d stop by and say hello, since I also don’t think we’ve been introduced before, and let you know, and if you’re not doing anything you’re more than welcome to stop by yourself if you like.”
“Oh I don’t know,” he said, genuinely concerned. “Don’t know if I can, I mean, with such short notice, don’t know if I really have time to fix anything to bring.”
“That’s not necessary,” she shook her head. “You wouldn’t have to bring anything.”
“Oh I would,” he said. “I really would. I’d hate to be that guy. You know, that guy who shows up and doesn’t bring anything. I have a bottle of wine I could bring and I think I have some tortilla chips and maybe some dip somewhere, bean or guacamole or maybe artichoke dip, but I really wish I could have known earlier to prepare something more substantial, you understand, because in fact I love to cook, love making food for other people and in fact just last night made ravioli from scratch and selfishly ate it all by myself, I say selfishly when I could have made it today and brought it over and had something really substantial to offer.”
“Chips and dip would be fine,” she shook her head again, “I love chips and dip, and wine too since I’m sure I won’t have enough if you have time to come, I mean I’m sure I won’t have enough, so bring whatever you like if you decide to come,” she said, took a step backwards with each comma, and he was no fool and understood this to mean she wanted to go now and of course she did, of course she probably had plenty of preparations to make before the potluck, so he waved and said, “I’ll be there around seven if that’s alright,” and she said, “That’s fine,” and he closed the door.
Then about an hour later, which is to say about four, he was pulling out of the parking lot to head to the grocery store for the bean dip and bag of tortilla chips and bottle of red wine, passed her speaking to another neighbor, her down at the bottom of the steps with her hands holding a book behind her back, the cover of the book facing him, speaking to the neighbor five steps above her, and passing he couldn’t help but look back at her at the cover of the book, try and see what she was reading, if it was anything he’d read or seen and wanted to read and therefore could make for a conversation topic later, just so happened the book she held with her hands behind her back was resting on the upside of her backside so that when he looked back to read the title on the cover of the book he was also inadvertently looking at her backside, which was fine, a fine backside, only the other neighbor saw him, gawked at what she thought was his gawking, pointed her to him driving by in his car so that when he punched the gas with his foot and drove away it appeared as if he’d actually been caught doing something wrong.
So then that happened, there was that, and now here he was, at the potluck, among people he imagined would one day be his friends, and first thing first he decided to apologize to his host for what would have appeared to have been him checking out her backside but was in fact an entirely innocent desire to look at her book, “But from where she, meaning our mutual neighbor, was standing and the way she looked at me and then pointed,” he said, “it seems there might have been some misunderstanding, like I was looking at something I wasn’t supposed to be looking at, by which I mean you, your backside, when I was actually looking at the title of your book, which I wonder, incidentally, if you could tell me since I never really saw it?” and she told him, something with the words daughter and road, Daughter of the Road or The Road’s Daughter or On the Road With My Daughter, he can’t, couldn’t, remember and anyway didn’t sound like the type of thing he’d really be interested in, reading or talking about reading, but he said, “I don’t think I’ve heard that one before but it sounds interesting, very interesting, not least of which because it comes recommended by you, and next time I’m in a library or bookstore I’ll make a point to seek it out, but what I meant to say was I’m sorry if you were under the impression I was ogling you before because I wasn’t and just looking at your book.”
“Well,” she said, “I hadn’t really noticed anything when you said whatever happened happened, though I was speaking to the neighbor across the street like you said and had my book with me which I suppose was holding like you said I was, but really it’s nothing, nothing to worry about, though I appreciate the apology and thanks again for coming and bringing the wine and tortilla chips and bean dip like you said which it seems are a big hit with everyone, but now it looks like I’m being called in to check on the casserole in the kitchen so if you’ll excuse me, and please help yourself to any food or drink and I hope you’re having a good time, have you had a chance to talk to Fernando over there? He was wondering who brought the wine.”
She walked away, presumably to the kitchen to check on the casserole, and he strolled over to the man she’d called Fernando who himself was standing among a group of other guests, all talking about something remarkably interesting and intimate and exclusive, the recent illness of a mutual friend, sleeping habits of both a somnolent and coital nature, et cetera, and he stood just on the outskirts waiting for some recognizable cue to step in.
“I believe you can master anything if you practice it for ten thousand hours,” said one of them, one of them whom he thought he’d definitely not be doing friend-like activities in the future, would not call on the telephone to deliver tragic or felicitous news, thought this just by the look of him and how he seemed to be holding court over the other guests.
“I don’t know if that’s true,” he said. “I mean imagine practicing something like painting, of which I’m sure there are hundreds if not thousands of people who’ve spent well over ten thousand hours practicing, but I, we, don’t know their names and whether or not they’re masters, well, I’d say probably not.”
“That’s not really what I’m talking about,” said the man. “I’m talking about cooking.”
“No, I mean, yes, I mean, of course,” he said. “Cooking doesn’t really require any kind of innate talent or skill, which is to say a skill that can be entirely taught, but just imagine for a minute, just imagine, if that’s all it really took to become the master of something, just ten thousand hours! That’d be, let’s see, ten thousand divided by twenty-four is about four hundred and twenty, isn’t it? But no one can practice anything twenty-four hours a day, no, so let’s say eight hours a day, which would make about four years and just imagine, imagine what my life would have been like now had I begun to learn the piano at the age of eight and practiced, really practiced, for four years! I could be at Carnegie Hall right now!
“And then at the age of twelve I could have begun learning to cook like you said, maybe in the French tradition, all those wonderful sauces, fondues and frog legs and foie gras, but at sixteen I think I would have liked to try my hand at something a little more rugged, carpentry or prospecting or auto mechanics, and after that gardening, which is to say agriculture, husbandry, tailoring or needlework after that, and now at the age of twenty-eight, to have become a man entirely self-sustained! Imagine, without need of anyone’s help, and the only question to ask myself now is what will I learn to do next?”
He closed his eyes to imagine for a moment the life he’d just imagined for himself, free of depending on anyone else, and when he opened them again everyone had gone, Fernando and the other man and everyone else, he saw them now, circling the buffet table like a wake of vultures. But never mind that, he thought, this wasn’t for them so much as himself, and after he’d had a little of the casserole, a couple glasses of red wine and some fruit salad, cheese and crackers and a cupcake, two cupcakes, in the corner of the yard, underneath the window of his own apartment, he bid his host goodnight and thanked her again for the invitation and “Please,” he said, “feel free to continue as loud and for as long as you like because keeping me awake won’t be any problem,” he said. “I sleep like a log,” and then took his leave across the parking lot and up the stairs to his own apartment, where he undressed, brushed his teeth, flossed, got into bed.
He left the window open so he could still hear the chatter from the party downstairs, but that didn’t bother him, found it comforting even and here and there thought he could even make out the voices of his host, the man and the man he imagined was Fernando who’d enjoyed his wine so much.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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