I can’t dance, I said.
And she said ‘It’s like swimming’
But I can’t do that either.
‘Because you get nervous, I bet.’
Because there’s so much under you
hell, monsters, angels, saints,
the deliman you stole two croissants from,
hell, hell, hell, hell, no floor, no life, no source
no footing, no knowing, nothing steady and
She hadn’t said a word.
‘What you can’t touch you do not understand,
so you panic. You can’t live when you can’t stand,
or feel. Couldn’t believe what won’t touch,
couldn’t be sure of what you can’t know.’
I nodded and hadn’t said a word.
‘Do you know what the secret to swimming is?’
I shook my head, but before Anna could answer,
a man came and swept her dainty hand in his.
Striding towards the dance floor with her in tow,
limp and swaying. I watched them sway their waist
and rhythms and bend and fold until they disappeared among the flow
sure and unhinged, let the strangers body press
each sway wile her thing and pale arms flayed straight into the air,
buoyed to the earth by his hands along.
“Well?” Asked Sam. And I nodded.
“It’s letting go.”
Separating is silent. A quiet exit
but present and suffocating like
air in a humid room.
The door creeks opens,sudden draft,
cold whoosh of something closing.
No bouncer at the door and a newly drawn sign “Welcoming Lost Souls To Oblivion…and $9 Cocktails. For Madmen Only.” I made my way in.
“I told you we had a true one, Anna,” Said Sam, his gunmetal gray eyes the first I met as I walked in. Like he were waiting for it.
Anna, with her back half turned and a song see-sawing her her waist and shoulders, “He must have a sixth sense for a good time,” Said Anna.
Everything inside could have been crafted by their hands. Dim lights, swirvy armchairs, the smooth smell of leather and wood in the air. Hems of polka dot skirts bobbing along the sparse room singing and laughing with freshly decked men that had their ties loose and top buttons undone. All singing and laughing to the melody of congruence. Even the bartenders chiseled and serious chin lowered and smiled, like he was in on it. Whatever “it” was, or is.
“Lucky guess,” I said, taking my place in the only space between them. “Next time don’t brag, and give me an address I can Google.”
I smiled, or tried to, but Sam looked away. Displeased and annoyed, like he’d been given a poem for a place to meet up but nobody showed, I thought I was being casual, but when I turned to Anna even she had hid her face,
“How did you find us?” Anna asked. Boredly. A question with about as much significance as How-Was-Your-Weekend on Monday morning.
I sat between them and stared at my bubbling pint for the courage and words. They wouldn’t come, but, I wouldn’t drink until I found them either.
“I tried to think like you,” I said. Forcing myself. How difficult it was, knowing honesty was in a glass within my hand I couldn’t take. But there was a thing they wanted and a thing that needed to be said. A confession or rite of passage. A three legged beast and club I was on the verge to become a part of. But if I were drunk, well then, yes we would be friends but not really.
So I did it with the comfort of knowing what I was confessing was something hard to label in the aftermath that doesn’t come off as stupid. “A certain taste in the air, the way people on Bleeker moved when I was smoking. I got a scent, and I followed and…fuck. I don’t know! I tried to…I did, see thing, as you’d see them. Then I got feelings, hunches on which way to go.”
“I went. Something told me you were here. Like a fucking voice or something, I don’t know. It wouldn’t tell me where to go but it would tell me where I shouldn’t. So I got here and, I don’t know.
By then I took a drink. “I just got the feeling that you would like this sort of place- out of the way, but still in the thick of it. Dark but light, quiet and loud.” I looked around unsure. “And it is nice, and you. This place is very you. But like I said, I got lucky.”
Sam and Anna laughed, together and alone, separately but cherused. They bought me a drink and kissed me with their smiles, as they had a tendency to.
It was five minutes before a bad day at work was almost over when I felt my pocket buzz, and before I even read it I knew it would have something to do with sex. I should have gone home and ordered pizza the way I planned, but, I wanted to see them. Even if their text didn’t have a place or time to meet, just a train station and vague mention to what might happen phrased like a warning, Meant as an enticement. Succeeding in both.
Took a midnight train to forfeit soon as I logged into Instagram and saw how much fun other people were having. Punched my ticket at the deli in a $9 bottle of rum before the 1 train rolled in, and I roared in ready because Spotify had a playlist I hated ready for me.
Seventeen stops later, seventh Avenue opened up to me in swank high rises and suavely slacked strides clicking towards the distant turn-lights of neon bar signs. Overtly overdressed mademoiselles applauding down the avenue, distracting my attention with their contoured faces and purposely painted high cheekbones. New York is a terrible place to be unsure of where you’re going, with blackened windows at every bar and bouncers bishoping lines make everywhere seem like the place you should be.
They didn’t provide an exact address, so I thought actually finding Sam and Anna would be a mild goose chase; a red herring they text me to be annoying and their idea of funny. But as I exited Bleeker Street subway station to nobody, and my texts received no answer, I leaned against a lamp post. Annoyed and a little anxious to review the test she/he/they sent me, some clue I could Mapquest or decipher.
In a hidden seventh avenue lies a street
and Steppenwolf; some beast astray
that finds no home or joy in Greenwhich
or world that is strange
and incomprehensible to him.
Drunk texts after 1AM with “intellectuals” are annoying like this. Throwing a book reference with where we might have met is bush league, and I did leave my apartment thirty minutes after I said… yet. Something. Hard to label what in the aftermath that doesn’t come off as stupid. A certain taste in the air, the way the crowd of people on Bleeker moved and wavered between my cigarette smoke. I felt a scent, and like a psychic or lunatic I found myself heading in a direction purely guided by instinct.
I would find them, I thought. Or I wouldn’t, and have a drink anyway. That’s what I thought as I wandered into The Slaughtered Lamb. A neat little dive bar quartered to a corner near sixth avenue where the streets get all whacky in Greenwich Village.
No bouncer at the door and a newly drawn sign “Welcoming Lost Souls To Oblivion…and $9 Cocktails. For Madmen Only.”
I made my way in.
A part of me likes to socialize for the sole purpose of disliking it. A self prophecy or flagellation, depending on the mood I’m in. Instead of rotting at home between four walls and the endless void of myself, I could grab my coat and finally answer someone I only left on read as a power move. Boys are cute and men make for better conversation, but in the end I like to think the games I play are less because I’m a bitch and more because I’m just window shopping.
Most guys still get angry at the fact, but then again I guess most guys never worked in retail.
“Can I buy you a drink?” He says, a little nervous but hiding it well.
“I hope so. This dress doesn’t come with a wallet.” I said, not disclosing the fifty dollars I have stashed in my bra because mama taught me well.
I like my loneliness throughout the year but then November starts turning the bend into Christmas- “cuddle weather” or “cuffing season,” depending on where you stand, culturally. Then all those days I spent alone bird watching in Central Park, or drinking enough wine to want to practice yoga poses at home, they start feeling less and less fulfilling when the holidays rolls around. Those wide, dead eyed Macy’s-Holiday-Sale ads glaring from the side of buses and subway platforms. A generic couple or family staring at you, actors actually, complete strangers that still manage to give you the impression like you’re missing out on something.
“This is nice,” I said. “How many other pretty girls have you brought here?”
It’s all bullshit, and I know I go right back to being bad all by my merry self once January comes around. But who doesn’t like a nice looking stud or vixen to grab you by the waist, pull you close and make you feel wanted once the ball drops on New Years? I sure as hell do.
“Its my first time here,” He said. But the way the bartender doesn’t even glance my way makes me believe otherwise.
“Let’s dance,” I said, fully aware that he doesn’t like to.
“Hell yeah,” He replied, smiling softly. In a way that almost makes me start to like him. “I’ve been practicing.”
So I’ll be gone til’ November and when December comes, I submit to carefully worded invitations laced with subtle flirts and sexually charged emoji’s. A couple drinks in Mulberry’s or High Bridge with another yuppie that thinks he either has me figured it out or has it all together. Throw the dust off my social withdrawal and take my place in a song, dance in the hysteria of a mob bouncing to a base and dissolving into a sea of other people. Move my hips in a rhythm that begins to feel instinctive, almost natural, and that despite myself feels good and on the fringes of having a good time. A place where words or thoughts or how stupid he looks in that ascot are no longer necessary.
“You have gotten better.” And he has. It’s the most honest thing I’d said to him the entire night.
“I was tired of you making me fun of me,” He said, trying to laugh.
Then I could bring him home, sleep sound and full of thoughts, and sentences, and sometimes bodies, other than my own. Happy, or at least, on the verge of some semblance of it. Him hopping through the hoops and traps I lay behind me. My conscience feeling awful for it every time he lands the fall. Then Christmas comes and he gets me something stupid and sweet like a yoga mat or blue rose, and then I wake up to hate myself for being so mean and a hypocrite.
“Then you definitely should not have worn that thing around your neck,” I said.
Or I could sit outside of it all as an observer and reinforce my prejudices, safe behind the looking glass of a bell jar. Convicted of my convictions and incapable of seeing the other side of the coin. Say Fuck-You to Macy’s the next time I see her, grow out my underarm hair and make an Instagram entirely dedicated to The Makings Of A Cat Lady and Drunk Yoga. Isolated and un-reproachable, impossible to hold the mildest of conversations with until he goes to the bathroom and comes back without the ascot because I can be that cruel. And as I’m emotionally ostracized and lie about having to work early because his eyes start looking a little angry, I can wander off home. Alone but a little glad- proud and the champion of my own misery.
“You’re kind of a bitch, you know that?” He said.
But I guess he never worked in retail.
It was early morning, around six thirty AM I think. That un-Godly hour when men in construction work boots march soul-less towards the MTA, and a handful of office workers with long commutes start their day before the sun will. When transit is slow and sluggish, quiet besides the scuffle of winter coats and urban foliage stirring awake. Early birds and no worms.
I slouched off of the 39 Bus hungover as the moon on the horizon, dragging my feet towards Nine To Five with my body in tow. Hungry, because I’d ate too late last night. Angry at another schedule I couldn’t skip, because rent’s a bitch and cheesesteaks don’t grow on trees. Calling out was out of the question, and I didn’t have any sick days left anyway. Between the bus fares, nephews, and bottles of rum lining my recycling bin, I needed the money. But not desperately. Enough to get me out of bed when I’d rather be somewhere else.
Not a unique feeling, I noticed, as I watched a couple stop on the corner. He was about my height, not much more handsome with a handful of grays around his cobble-colored hair. She was all legs, nick-knacks dangling from her wrists, ears, neck, jacket, boots, lips; everywhere. Hands just barely held, calm and comfortable as they lazily rushed towards their obligations as the rest of us. They hit the corner and slowed, spoke some four to five words or syllables I tried my hardest to listen in on (all I could make out was ‘Don’t—this weekend—‘) and kissed each other on the cheek goodbye.
She clicked on toward the subway, he stood and stared at her go for a while. I stood there watching while he was wrestling with something. An idea maybe, words or feelings he should have shown or let shed. Or maybe he was throwing in the towel on the rat race, would have rather run down the block and take her by the hand back down where they came from. Board up the windows and lock the door at home, let the rent and bills pile up, spend all day listening to quiet comfort of her soft breathing on his chest, and the nick-knacks dangling off the dressers and coffee tables.
Then a car honked, he looked at his cell, and marched towards the 9 bus to work instead. He needed the money too, I guess, or couldn’t manage to break the habit. I looked at the 9 bus, marched towards the liquor store I knew would be open in an hour, and called The Boss on my cell.
Because I couldn’t either.
A city is a machine that makes escape necessary, for calm that has the kind of quiet you’re afraid to disturb. Tall grass and stubby elms stretched close as the eyes could see, and far as New York pavement can afford. I walk briskly into leaves, dirt and fauna. Escape from sounds and bodies unnatural to the world. Hear sneakers smack against gravel that reminds me of playgrounds- black tar, swings, and innocence on the joyful verge of discovering the obscene. Autumn cold creeping up the side of my jeans felt tingly, and the grey calm of the sky gave the world a soft stillness like someone had just finished crying.
Nature makes a man feel at peace. No matter the trials that are ahead or behind him. We are made of earth, and water, and mud, so a return to the elements is a return to the self. A blade of grass stuck stubbornly out of the concrete, bike tires trampling the poor little thing. And then it stood up, shorter, but, I understood. In my heart I felt a swelling and gentle hemorrhaging demanding more life, more breath, less thoughts. Less thoughts. A sigh building in my throat, twenty stories high; some funny, some not. All bad, all bad. Air releasing from my lips the dark and heavy waste of the past inside of me like an exhaust pipe.
I clip my cigarette and feel a quiet in me I’m afraid to disturb.
Walk briskly into traffic, metal, honking, steel.
Arrive at the world of man, full of mud, dirt, and more of myself.
Rum on the floor and when we dance it’s sticky. with each step. But who cares, because the dark makes sense of what we can’t say out loud and is more aware of our hips and heart than we knew had feeling. Mistaken identities happen naturally when alcohol is involved, but we make the most of it. Pretend to be we are something other than what we pretend to be at 9AM. And if I should grab her waist and scream DESPACITO.
Words I wouldn’t consider were worlds apart but coming from his mouth is all I’m left feeling with. Dick moves in purposefully absent movements, I see through it and laugh at, but being the butt end of a joke still feels inclusive when you’re the punch line.
Should I touch the part between your elbow and shoulder that shines like a silver. Am I an animal to want you close to my body and suffocate in your perfume. So warm it reminds me of Summer, so dark when it’s early and I’m howling.
Success makes me uncomfortable. I’m more likely to go on a bender bragging about mistakes I’ve done than stand tall on the soapbox of Facebook, letting the people who barely care know just where I spent my weekend pretending to have a good time or volunteering.
“This weekend? Got back from teaching English in Honduras,” He said, casually. “So sad, what’s going on out there.”
“This weekend I took a shower and put on pants when I went outside,” I said, proudly. “Twice.”
There’s humility in defeat, a shared lesson or dick joke we could all learn a thing or two from. But success is suffocating, smothers conversation no matter how much it’s ignored, and stifles words in your throat like hot air in a stuffy room. An uncontrollable instinct to brag upward or retreat into yourself is inevitable because winning doesn’t have a gag or wisecrack. Only a line, and a dare.
“Next is Cuba,” Robby said, and some woman awww’d from the corner of the circle. “Maybe India if I get the raise I’m waiting on.”
“I don’t think I’ve left the country since Bush was President.” I replied, half-assed.
“You should come,” He said. And his eyes made an emphasis on certain words.
I hadn’t seen Robby since what he stole from me last Summer – roughly seventy two dollars in cab fare and whatever was left of my belief in human decency. He has a habit of dragging me into problems I should know better and avoid, gets too drunk too function and sticks me with the tab and social bill. I never want to go, but it’s hard to deny him. He’s got a way with words that makes words feel uncomfortable, in a fun way. Un-clever and gorgeous enough to barely pass for charming. Confident without compliments, because beauty doesn’t need validation.
“Oh yeah? When are you going?” I asked.
“June maybe. Definitely next Summer.”
Last time Robby made plans we were four hours away from New York in his bosses housewarming party, inebriated out of our minds on Jefferson’s and a bunch of whiskey way out of my pay grade. Close to midnight our ride up disappeared into the night with a brunette stacked like textbooks in a college bookstore. And when I asked him what the hell we were supposed to do he gave me a look that said Tough-Shit-Buddy and God-Be-With-You all at once.
“Pilot might meet a brown haired girl he likes. I don’t know.”
“Are you still on that?” Robby said, laughing. “I told you it was an accident.”
Fifth of July was a wild morning of trying to convince taxi drivers to let us in while Robby kept throwing up on the curbside. And when we finally managed to hit the long black road home, and I complained about his friend ditching us, Robby admitted, between barfs, in a pure drunken state where all the fucks are lost and never to be given- that he knew we’d be ride-less back home the whole time.
“He said he’d give us a ride back home then Nate met that girl. What did you want me to do?”
And a rage built inside of me I never felt before. Being deceived in some way is a given with humanity, but what a rodeo, staring at a liar shrugging at you with his red hands. Like ‘Yeah-I’ve-Done-It. And?’ I couldn’t believe a friend would do such a thing willingly. I thought misunderstandings happened because we miss the chance at assuming best intentions. Not like that, not so much mean on purpose. Then to be made out as crazy for fact checking is about as hair pulling as fake news.
“More, I guess.” I said.
“I’m sorry I always let you down.”
But it isn’t all his fault, I think. In those three hours I battled the very real and un-exaggerated urge to smother Robby with my fist or a pillow, I learned something. About him, and myself. Liquor might make a man low, but never more capable. Whatever violence boiled in my blood against him was just as real sober, only more buried. And all the times Robby bragged about his life and job when he dragged me out with him were only misplaced moments of inadequacy. He was trying to overlap me in a race he was the only one having, winning in a game I had no idea we were playing.
“So are you coming? To Cuba?” He asked. And I laughed.
“I wouldn’t be caught dead in public with you.”
But we went.
Crowded, packed and stuffed with no AC.
Doors close, open, close, open, close, open, cl-
open. Somebody sucks teeth and the whole train sighs.
An afternoon turning evening ride home, ten stops away
from Wednesday rituals and the nonsense we do to get
over the hump of a work-week. Walking starts looking
like an option from all these delays. And if this
old ladies bag pushes me ONE MORE TIME I swear I’ll-
Sweating, hot and suffocating in 9 to 5 company.
Undone ties and tired eyes fanning magazines,
smearing makeup, grunting offhand conversations,
complacent and wailing for home. Singing to the rhythm
of train tracks and middle class disappointment.
A Game of Thrones Ringtone plays and somebody sneezes.
Two men argue over who touched who first,
but it doesn’t matter and devolves to racial slurs.
Fingers, movements, violence vibrating in IF YOU COME
ONE STEP CLOSER and voices getting louder
and louder and louder and louder and
more uncomfortable the longer neither of them backs down.
Then one says F**K THIS and starts reaching in his bag and
Crowded, packed and stuffed with no AC.
Doors close, open, close, open, close, open, cl-
open. Red floor, red doors, red rails, red everything.
Red advertisement on prescription acne treatment
on sale with Dr. Zimmerman, blood blushing his smile.
People running. Screams. Yelling. Shoving. I TOLD HIM
HE SHOULDN’T. I TOLD HIM. I TOLD HIM. Sirens.
Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Seen men laugh the hell of winter in warehouse factories, smoke circles huddled to keep warm in the frost of poverty and nicotine snow. Stale gas station bread and piss poor coffee for piss poor patrons in piss poor jobs stuck in dead end wages. Together, strangely, in more than a word. Exhaustion does strange things to quiet the soul and make a family out of shared misery. Leonard made coffee cakes on Fridays. We ciphered cigarette breaks while Cassandra played lookout for the forman. Hank didn’t say much.
Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Broke bread and summer nights with Yale graduates, yuppies who migrated to Washington Heights when even they were too broke for SoHo. Thirsty Thursdays and 5K Marches for whatever was popular at the moment. Empty nights full of cocktails on rooftops that overlook Manhattan and sympathy. Overseas relief efforts in LoFi filters, hashtagged humanitarianism at its worse. Intellectuals that are only in it for themselves.
Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Met the greatest and worst minds of our generation, found little difference in both. The vagabond desperate to make his ends meet, and the conglomerate tied in a knot of vanity and himself. Where is the lesson? What is there to learn from these peaks of top and bottom? Nothing.
Life is a but a poor struggle, or a rich one.
Silence is golden, duct tape
is silver. Rope, a deep mahogany.
The trunk is black, your heart
a cold and frigid