Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where is David Henry Hwang?

It's 2:30 a.m. (yesterday morning), and I'm sitting on the floor near my dad's chair at the dining room table, checking what books I want to return to the library in order to pick up some of the books on hold for me. To return 30 in order to pick up all the holds would be impossible. I always have that futile hope that somehow, in a week, before picking up the next round of holds, I can read everything I decided to keep.

The books form a half moon in front of me. With my favorite click pen in my right hand, a blue ink Pentel R.S.V.P., and my eight-page library card printout in my left hand, I make sure Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich is next to Architecture of the Old South: South Carolina, a hefty coffee-table book that I checked out to get a sense of home for others, ahead of the maybe-in-a-few-months possibility of finally regaining a real home, this time in Boulder City, Nevada. Last time was when I was a kindergartner in Casselberry, Florida. My elementary school, Stirling Park, was actually in the neighborhood.

I look over at the playwrights I intend to return. Tennessee Williams ("American Blues: Five Short Plays") is at the top of a small stack. Christopher Durang ("Baby with the Bathwater and Laughing Wild: Two Plays") is below him, followed by Terrence McNally ("Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune"), Arthur Miller ("Danger, Memory!: Two Plays"), Ellen Byron ("Graceland and Asleep on the Wind: Two Short Plays") , Robert Anderson ("You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running"), and Edward Albee ("Counting the Ways and Listening: Two Plays"). Michael McClure ("The Beard") sits in front of these noteworthy names. He's small-looking enough in size that I don't want to lose him when he goes into my tote bag. When my father had a week-long spring break two weeks ago, we went to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino during the week, and I got a few ideas within this setting for either a play or two one-act plays, involving only two characters. I intended to read these to learn about the form, as all of these playwrights had written exactly what I was looking for. But other writers got in the way, as well as myself, finishing my first book and sending the results to my writing partner. Since then, he e-mailed me back, saying that he's "extremely proud" of what I've "put forth." It's a huge relief. It took a year. Actually, a little over 365 days was all I had. It's a lot shorter as a deadline, though I suspect forthcoming ages will cut it even closer than that.

I put checkmarks next to these writers on my library card printout. I always reach the limit of 50 items. I count the books in front of me. 17. Eric Puchner ("Model Home") makes 17. As said before, other writers got in the way. My reading desires vary wildly each week. Plus, with returning to writing reviews for Screen It, I need to figure out what my priorities are in books. Being that I strive for at least 99% accuracy in my reviews, I try to get dialogue exact when applicable, gunfire described completely, including what character shot what weapon and at whom, and profanity. My first film back will be Goodfellas. You can imagine how much time that may take. It's for parents, however (with the only slant in each review being the section reserved for the standard movie review, called "Our Take"), and they should have the most information possible. Plus, I get paid for this and I want to do the best job possible. I also have to begin the process of financial aid and signing up for classes online from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. My future career lies in aviation, definitely at an airport. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do yet, but I have a few ideas.

I shouldn't have 17 books to return, though. I should have 18. Where is number 18? Where is David Henry Hwang ("FOB and Other Plays")? I walk over to the stack I have within a winding faux-marble stand that exists to hold some of our dogs' toys and other things. I use one shelf for my books. I look at the nine-count stack that's there, and I can't find Mr. Hwang. I go to my room to look at where I kept a few of these playwrights, figuring that if they were in my room, I'd be quick about getting to know them. He's not there. There's that book about presidential history, and on the bottom of that stack, that large book of cartoons by Roz Chast, but Mr. Hwang had not decided to spend time near my copy of Around the World in 80 Days which would have been adjacent to him.

I go back to the living room, back to the books still on the floor. I upend the playwrights I've already collected, hoping that I merely overlooked him. I look on the dining room table, where I've placed books I checked out the previous week, and am now only beginning to get to know. He's not there either. I begin to worry about having to pay for Mr. Hwang taking up residence in my house. I also worry about if I might have accidentally left him behind at the library the previous week. Did one of the librarians find him and put him back in my box after scanning his barcode and finding out that he had already been checked out to me? When I walk into the library, will one of them tell me that they found him and here he is?

I go back to my room. I look at the books in the stack nearest to the head of my bed. Cory Doctorow is waiting with Makers, Michael Dobbs wants to tell me all about the delightfully nefarious politician Francis Urquhart, and believes three books ("House of Cards," "To Play the King," and "The Final Cut") should be sufficient enough for the task. There's other writers waiting, such as John Kiriakou ("The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror"), but none of them know of Hwang, and he's not in that stack either.

I begin to wonder: Is Mr. Hwang miffed that I didn't have time for him? Is he hiding out of spite? Is he so eager for me to get to know him that he's hoping I don't find him so that I only go to the library with 17 books, and therefore can only pick up 17 of my holds? He's not due back at the library yet anyway, but I need to let in Elif Batuman. I've waited long enough for her to arrive with her obsession over Russian literature ("The Possessed"). Besides putting other writers on hold on my card, I check every day on what writers wait for me to pick them up, and four people were always ahead of me on her dance card. That number didn't move in my favor for weeks. Now she arrived, and I wanted to know what she knew and loved about Russian literature.

I go back to the stack sitting on a shelf of that stand. Bottom to top. Noel Coward is at the bottom with his diaries. At the top, a bunch of writers are clustered together with much to say about Mark Twain in The Mark Twain Anthology. Below that is something dark. I can't see it very well because the living room light shines into my parents' bedroom, and I can't use it. The dining room light remains on its lowest setting overnight so they can sleep soundly. That's the deal we made about two months ago, unless I really need the living room light, but I don't.

The darkness below The Mark Twain Anthology becomes what I call "hallelujah light." Even though the light's not physically there, I feel it brightening. I found Mr. Hwang. It's a relief vastly different from passing a math test despite no confidence in the studying having done any good. I don't mean any disrespect toward Mr. Hwang. I want his help soon in understanding how a two-person play works, the possible ways of writing it, the necessary beats to keep an audience interested.

With him accounted for, I fill my tote bag. He's second from the top. I can't promise him that I'll ask to have him back right away, since I have to begin my education with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and refamiliarize myself with the routine of writing reviews for Screen It. But despite the work involved in both, I think he'll be back with me soon enough, teaching me what he thinks I should know.