The year that would never end began on January 5, 2009. We didn't know then what we know now: we were taking the first steps in a marathon. Had we, things might have been different. We might have moved to some Tahitian island, sold our house to go on Walkabout. We would have turned off our phones and left no forwarding address for the fates and we would have stepped gratefully into the arms of a different wild adventure, but definitely not the one we had.
Instead, we took things as one always does: with the expectation that life is a straight line and we're just following the path. And because things were going in a straight line, my husband decided he would accept a job where he had to travel; having had the luxury of many straight years of work come to him here at home, he packed a bag to meet his clients in New Orleans for a project that would carry him deep into February.
And it was rewarding. He hadn't seen any clients face-to-face in years; instead people send massive audio files over the internet to him, he polishes everything to a high sheen and sends it back, sometimes without a phone call expressing the expectations (or plaudits) for the work. He's given a tremendous amount of latitude with his job because he's good at it; on the other hand, it's nice to talk to another human being once in a while.
So being in New Orleans with a bunch of insane creative forces invigorated him. He was renewed in a vital sense, as the team struggled to meet deadlines, create art, not murder each other, stay sober enough to work. He was accepted as a tribal member, his markings carved in sleep deprivation and beignet sugar, dirty rice and their charge to seduce the muses into visiting them.
But Lars is a dedicated family man. He is, to his core, my husband and my son's father. If one could strip away all of the kudos he has racked up over time, as long as he could keep his title "husband and father" he would be okay. I am lucky to be me in that respect.
The first several years of our marriage he flew to L.A. every week for work, but on his one day off, rather than go have a beer or eight in WeHo or Silver Lake, would fly home. He'd arrive at 8:45 Sunday morning, after working sixteen to eighteen hours a day for six days straight, and he would doze on the sofa next to me while I read the style section of the New York Times. Then he would wake up, we'd watch terrible Sunday afternoon television together while he read the more substantial sections of the paper, and we would talk. We'd eat dinner, go to bed, wake up and drive him to the airport at 6:00 a.m. He wasn't even home a full 24 hours.
Six weeks in New Orleans was a long time away for one so dedicated to being a part of his family, especially when he hadn't been away in ages. It was a big project, one that by its very nature was inevitably going to run into overtime. So when the news came down that they were holding over the production for a couple more weeks, his heart weighed in and he told them he had to go home. He had fulfilled his obligation to them, and his family needed him. The team was disappointed, but understood: did he know who might be able to finish it up?
As a consequence, he inadvertently opened the door to one of his old partners, someone who had been out of the industry for years but due to a rocky economy and a lack of success on the East Coast was throwing his hat back into the ring. He jumped at the chance to be a part of the project, and Lars found himself in the uneasy position of sliding his old partner into a role that he had perhaps hastily given up, creating a perfect rival by his own hand.
He flew home to the warm embrace of his family on Valentine's Day. Two days later, my son and I got a terrible cold. A day after that, Lars fell into the feverish delirium of the flu, where he resided uncomfortably and fitfully for the better part of a week.
The mental anguish that he had set in motion by leaving the team was inflamed by his feverish inability to sleep; the less he could sleep, the more he believed that he had destroyed himself and his career by opening the door to another. The more convinced he became of his folly, the less he could sleep, the one thing that would bring back his sensibility and voice of reason. He was a man possessed by demons of his own making and he could not shake them, claws of fire ripping into his compromised psyche.
He knew he needed to rectify the situation. He lay awake in the reaches of his dark night scrambling for a way to make himself right in the eyes of his team, the people who had awarded him with tribal membership and he rewarded with abandonment. How could he be so cavalier? So blind? How could he be so insane?
He decided to send them a gift, a gesture of his affection and his fondness for the project and the team. Something meaningful, which would impart all of his gratefulness for being a part of something much greater than him.
He would get them a salami.
He turned it over in his mind: it perfect sense. He tried and failed to come up with other solutions to his problem: the salami was the key.
It wasn't just any salami, either. It was the best salami he had personally ever eaten in his life: Fra Mani's "Gentile," and he knew that the team loved nothing more than good food. So he took himself, after boiling his brain in 103-degree temperatures for days, out of quarantine into the wider world, shedding flu germs everywhere in the quest for the perfect salami.
But stores don't just sell the perfect salami whole. They sell a quarter pound here, a few slices there. Butchers and charcuterie departments are not accustomed to holding onto their five-pound salamis for glassy-eyed crazy people looking to mend fences with their abandoned team. He could not get his hands wrapped around his perfect salami no matter where he looked.
The idée fixe had taken deep root in his mind, and time was of the essence: if he didn't get his gift off to them immediately, his chances of all future work were going to disappear in the haze of his own hubris. He needed to FedEx a salami immediately, today. Finally he raced through town to the last charcuterie he could think of and he was rewarded for his dedication. He was overwhelmed with such gratitude and relief at finding the Fra Mani that he almost bought four, until the one shred of sense left to him realized that the cost of over-nighting twenty pounds of meat was more that even his desperation could stomach.
He packed his precious five-pound salami in a triangular poster box, bought a card and penned these simple words:
Thanks for the endless sausage party! Love, Lars
He shipped off his salami, and came home. He had done his best, and his tortured brain was allowed its first respite in a week. He slept.
• • •
We don't know how the salami was received. We fantasize about it now, and wonder at what must have been the expressions of amazement on the faces of the recipients. I wish I could be there, experiencing the gasp of surprise receiving a most inelegant-looking tube of meat, warty and dimpled, long and over-endowed.
But when they got a knife out and tasted it, they called Lars to tell him that indeed, it was perfect.
Our year didn't improve in many ways, but Lars still has a career. And we're thankful for that perfect salami.