jonathan ames’ parodic homage to private dicks: “bored to death”


BORED TO DEATH


The trouble happened because I was bored. At the time, I was twenty-eight days sober. I was spending my nights playing Internet backgammon. I should have been going to AA meetings, but I wasn’t.

I had been going to AA meetings for twenty years, ever since college. I like AA meetings. My problem is that I’m a periodic alcoholic, even with going to AA. Every few years, I try drinking again. Or, rather, drinking tries me. It tries meon for size and finds out I don’t fit and throws me to the ground. And so I go crawling back to AA. Or at least I should. This last go-round, I was skipping meetings and just staying home and, like I said, playing Internet backgammon.

I was also reading a lot of crime fiction and private detective fiction, writers like Hammett, Goodis, Chandler, Thompson. The usual suspects, as it were. Since my own life was so dull, I needed the charge that came from their books—the danger, the violence, the despair.

So that’s all I was doing—reading and playing backgammon. I can afford such a lifestyle because I’m a writer. I’m not a hugely successful writer, but I’m my own boss. I’ve written six books—three novels and three essay collections—and at the time of the trouble I had roughly six thousand dollars in the bank, which is a lot for me. I also had a few checks for movie work coming in down the road.

By my economic standards it was a flush time. I had even paid my taxes early, at the end of March—it was now mid-April—and I was just trying to stay sober and keep a low profile in my own little life. I wasn’t doing any writing, because, well, I didn’t have anything to say.

Overall, I was being pretty reclusive. I only talked to a few people, primarily my parents, who are retired and live in Florida and who call me every day. They’re a bit needy, my senior citizen parents, but I don’t mind, life is short, so if I can give them a little solace with a daily call, what the hell. My father is eighty-two and my mother is seventy-five. I have to love them now as best I can. And the only other two people I really spoke to were the two close friends I have, one who lives here in New York and the other who’s in Los Angeles. I have a lot of acquaintances, but I’ve never had a lot of friends.

One night a week, I did leave the apartment to go see this girl. It was nice. I guess you could say that she was a friend, too, but I’ve never really thought of the women in my life as friends, which must be a flaw. Her name was Marie and we would have dinner, maybe go to a movie, and then we’d get into bed at her place, never my place, and the sex with her was good. But it wasn’t anything serious. She was twenty-six and I’m forty-two, and I retired from being serious with women a few years ago. Somebody always got hurt, usually the girl, and I couldn’t take it anymore.

Well, I’ll shut up now about all this. It’s not my drinking problem or my finances or my dead love life that I want to talk about. I only mention all this as some kind of way to explain why I had too much free time on my hands, because what’s really on my mind is this trouble I got into because, as I said, I was bored. Bored with backgammon and bored with reading and bored with being sober and bored with myself and bored with being alive.

I should make it clear that I wasn’t at all bored by the books I was tearing through and loving, but bored by the fact that I wasn’t actually doing anything, just reading, though it was, in fact, Hammett and Goodis and Chandler and Thompson who sort of provoked me to take action, and it’s when I took action, because of those authors’ books, that I blew up my life.

It was a fantasy, a crazed notion, but I gotit into my head that I wanted to play at being a private detective. I wanted to help somebody. I wanted to be brave. I wanted to have an adventure. And it’s pathetic, but what did I do? I put an ad on craigslist in the “services” section under “legal.” It read as follows:

Private Detective for Hire

Reply to: serv-261446940@craigslist.org
Date: 2007-04-13, 8:31AM EST

Specializing: Missing Persons, Domestic Issues.
I’m not licensed, but maybe I’m someone who can help
you. My fee is reasonable.
Call 347-555-1042

There were two other private-detective ads on craigslist and they offered all sorts of help—surveillance, undercover work, background checks, video and still photography, business investigations, missing persons, domestic issues, and two things that I didn’t quite grasp—”skip tracing” and “witness locates.”

I figured the only thing I could help with was trying to find someone or maybe following someone, which would most likely be a “domestic issue”—an unfaithful spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend. I didn’t have any qualms about that, following an unfaithful lover, though in all the private-detective fiction I’ve read the heroes never do “marriage work,” as if it’s beneath them, but I thought it would be fun to follow somebody and to do so for the purposes of a real mission. Sometimes, probably because I want everything to be like it is in a book or a movie, I have followed people on the streets of New York, pretending I was a detective or a spy.

I did try to cover myself legally by writing in my ad that I wasn’t licensed. I don’t know who does license private detectives, but I figured it was a difficult process and, anyway, I just wanted to put the ad up, mostly as a lark, a playing-out of a dream, like when I would shadow people on the streets. But I really didn’t think anybody would actually call me—I was offering far fewer services than the other private detectives and I was acknowledging in the ad that I wasn’t exactly a professional.

If somebody did call, then I figured after talking to me they would try somebody more reputable, but whatever came of it, even if nobody called, I thought it might be something I could write about, a comedic essay—”My Failed Attempt at Being a Private Detective.” Often during my writing career, mostly for my essays, I’ve put myself in weird positions and then milked it for humor. This situation would be like the time I tried to go to an orgy but wasn’t allowed in. Even when nothing happens, you can sometimes make a good story out of it.

Anyway, I got a thrill at posting the ad, but it was a short-lived thrill. For the first day, I would go and look at my ad, admiring my own handiwork, laughing to myself, wondering if something might happen, almost as if I checked it out enough times, other people would. But then, after about a day, the thrill wore off. It was one more ridiculous thing in a ridiculous life, and, of course, noone called.

Read the rest here.

Read about Ames and "Bored To Death" here.

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32 Comments

  1. I love Jonathan Ames.

    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.

    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.

      hi, alan:

      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.

      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?

      peter

  2. I love Jonathan Ames.

    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.

    alan

  3. I love Jonathan Ames.

    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.

    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.

      hi, alan:

      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.

      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?

      peter

  4. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  5. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  6. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  7. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  8. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  9. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  10. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  11. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  12. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  13. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

  14. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  15. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  16. I love Jonathan Ames.
    Unfortunately I don’t have cable. Waiting for the DVD.
    alan

    • Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
      hi, alan:
      i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
      have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
      peter

  17. Re: I love Jonathan Ames.

    hi, alan:

    i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.

    have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?

    peter

  18. Re: I love Jonathan Ames.
    hi, alan:
    i too love ames, and even though i have cable, i’m gonna wait for the dvd as well. i can’t stand the usual nuisances that accompany watching tv: someone phoning five minutes into the story, having to wait a week for the next episode, having my wife suddenly change the channel, etc.
    have you seen ames’ graphic novel the alcoholic?
    peter


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