Among the many pursuits I failed to follow beyond an initial burst of enthusiasm were surfing, reforestation, orienteering, improv theater, home brewing, bass guitar, bullfighting, handicapping thoroughbreds, documentary filmmaking, and political speechwriting. I considered architecture school, film school, and journalism school and went for an interview at an international affairs masters program. Though I joined basketball and softball leagues, I was more often than not a no-show. Every now and then, I attended meetings of the Mars Society. I subscribed to a local theater, at which I caught exactly one Mike Leigh and half a Brecht. I kept an online application for the Peace Corps active for a couple of years but never submitted it. I vowed to get work on an Asia-bound freighter. I went out and drank too often, but had neither a regular haunt nor a favored drink. I was a groomsman in ten weddings, never the best man. I read several novels at once and rarely finished one. Wanting to work with my hands at something, I gleaned scrap metal and old planks of wood, which I kept, unworked, in the trunk of my car. I volunteered to be in charge of selling corporate tables for a charity's annual gala, but then I delivered only one. And it was for lack of trying.

For a while, this skimming of the world's muchness felt meaningful. I convinced myself that I was pursuing the examined life, taking nothing on someone else's word, exhausting my options. But at a certain point, I just felt exhausted. Simple exuberance was not a real embrace of anything and did not constitute a meaningful life. A meaningful life was built of commitments, and that I had none was a cause for brooding. This I liked to do from the top of the unfinished parking deck next to our offices. You could stand on the unrailed edge and look out onto some of the great tropes of the city: the tops of all those palms, the cement-lined Los Angeles River, the Hollywood Hills, and, on some smogless days, the sparkling atoll of downtown.

People went up there mostly for the cell coverage—to have a private job interview or a conversation with a girlfriend—but it was also a good place to dwell on all of the nagging questions. Most days during the workweek, I ate lunch alone at a French-Vietnamese diner on National Boulevard. I sat on a stool at the bar and read for a while from a book or worked the crossword puzzle in a Times left on the counter. On Tuesdays during the summer, though, I usually walked over to the Culver City Farmers' Market in the afternoon. They held it on one sidewalk of a small park downtown. The selection was limited, but there was enough to cobble together a lunch, and the market always made for good people-watching: small kids kicking around the grass; their parents and nannies flirting; old people sitting in the chairs in front of the small stage where light jazz and funk bands played; and professionals lingering, on lunch break from the growing number of tech companies and furniture galleries and ad agencies in the area.

Excerpted from The Perfect Fruit by Chip Brantley. Copyright © 2009 by Chip Brantley. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<


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