Friday, June 02, 2006

Airport Angst, or Infinite Sadness revisited.

So I’m sitting in San Francisco International Airport, reading Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness, realizing that Scott Pilgrim in general and this book in particular is a romance book disguised by video game references and influences from all over the place and promising myself that I’ll try and cut down on the “Scott Pilgrim is the cool comic version of Harry Potter, soon fans will be turning out to stores on the days when the books are launched trying to dress up like Wallace and Stephen Stills” thoughts that go on in my mind every time I think of the series, and more than anything, I think about being in an airport in Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland, eight years ago.

I was waiting for my then-girlfriend to come back from three months in Germany, where she’d been studying abroad. I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut book, although I don’t really remember which one because this was in the middle of my last big Vonnegut kick when I’d just devour novel after novel after novel of his – I’d read “Breakfast of Champions” around this time, and found myself almost throwing it across the room in despair a few times before his epiphany towards the end of the book, and once I reached that point, wondering if the whole thing had been written around that epiphany and was all some kind of strange literary hoax – but I remember that it was entirely the wrong book to be reading for that moment. It was full of “big ideas”, and my mind was already churning with all of the big thoughts that come to get you when it’s been months since you’ve seen your girlfriend and she’s been in Germany and giving increasingly distant telephone calls.

(In San Francisco Airport, I’m waiting for my dad. He’s visiting from Scotland for a couple of months, as he tends to do in the summer, and despite the lack of brain-churning big questions, I’m reading Scott Pilgrim at this point partially because I’d wanted something that I thought was going to be light and enjoyable, and not likely to fill me with any kind of existential dread about the nature of my plight as a human being on this essentially pain-filled planet.)

When I was waiting for my girlfriend to come through the doors, watching monitors that announced that her plane had already landed and that the people on said plane were in customs, I was the same age as Scott Pilgrim in the latest book, which is kind of strange to think about. Mostly, admittedly, because my life wasn’t as full of bands and robot arms and extra lives as his; nonetheless, that isn’t why I’m remembering all of this at this point. When my girlfriend appeared, she was very obviously wanting to tell me something – She was withdrawn, she was quiet, and by the time we’d gone back to her apartment and put all of her luggage down, she was breaking up with me.

This is the point where you can all feel sorry for me.

It wasn’t anything resembling a clean break-up, or even a particularly healthy one; there are some times in your life when you have to make mistake after mistake after mistake just because, well, you’re dumb and it’s the time in your life when you’re supposed to be dumb and fuck up a lot, and this was definitely that time for me. I’m not going to tell you why she broke up with me, apart from to say that those three months in Germany definitely didn’t help matters (Not that this means that I have anything against long distance relationships, I hasten to add, all readers who happen to be in long distance relationships right now. My wife Kate and I were in a very long distance relationship – across continents! – and everything worked out fine. It’s just that this wasn’t a particularly good example of a long distance relationship). There’s a scene pretty early on in the Scott Pilgrim book that I was reading where we flash back to Scott just after he’s been dumped by his girlfriend, and he’s lying on the ground, stunned, melodramatically saying “Oh God… I’m so alone…” That was me, back then. In a metaphorical sense, at least. The only differences were that I just had much worse hair, and far too much post-break-up-sex-with-my-ex.

The “Infinite Sadness” that the title of the new Scott Pilgrim book refers to, I guess, is the perpetual reliving of Scott’s break-up with Envy, and the effects that it still has on him, years later. It’d been in the series all along, played somewhat for comic effect – Scott’s lying on the ground, unable to speak after Envy called him in the second book, for example – but this third book moves it to the forefront, giving us flashbacks to Scott and Envy getting together in the first place and the slow dissolution of their relationship, as well as the aftermath that it’s had on everyone involved. That it manages to do this without losing the playful feeling of the last two books is pretty impressive, and as much as I had reservations about other parts of the book (the telegraphing of the Deus Ex Machina ending and other self-referential comments throughout were funny, but also felt as if Bryan O’Malley wasn’t confident about what he was writing…), it made me completely convinced that I was definitely going to pick up the next book in the series to see what would happen.

Like I said, I’d picked up the book as something light and ultimately non-emotionally resonant to read while killing time. But sitting in the airport, remembering what it felt like to be just like Scott, dumped and depressed, I’m thinking that I guess Scott Pilgrim was a better book than I’d been giving it credit for.

I’m also thinking that Scott’s lucky that Envy didn’t go to Germany. Odd things happen to girlfriends in Germany, it seems.