Curiosity Killed The Cat, But Satisfaction Brought Him Back (More Jaded)

“Do you know what poisons cows?” He asked.

A plastic bag was rustling between the long limbs of an old, wrinkled tree stump. Two paper coffee cups tumbled down the street, their plastic lids clinking against the worn and grey gravel of a bubble gum strewn sidewalk in New York. Urban tumbleweeds sifting between cars, bodies, half-opened trash bags and brown dry grass never to see Spring again.

“What?” I said, not really listening. I was too focused on the fauna fouling around us.

A valley of ash without the eyes or pity of TJ Eckleburg, the machinations of New York City they never write about in the movies. Grime, industry and man conglomerated into one. The wind had picked up, the bags rustled louder, cups clinked faster, and I thought there was a kind of music to the pollution of a city.

“The cow.” He repeated calmly. “You know what poisons them?”

I shook my head and he nodded wisely to himself,  shifting slightly against his cane which made his thousand year old Puerto-Rican bones groan. A while passed and he said nothing, stood leaning against the earth with the patience of trees.

“What poisons cows,” I asked absently, and his mustache twitched like cat whiskers, as if the question startled him awake. He smacked his lips, a bad habit he’d retained after years of chewing tobacco.

“The cow.” He repeated, again  calmly. “Do you know what poisons them?”

“No, Mingo. What poisons the cows?”

We were leaning on concrete slabs just steep enough to take a seat in, meandering the morning in fifty cent cigarettes and a small bottle of Jameson tucked safely in a brown paper bag. Me, looking too deeply into everyday scenery, and Mingo’s lively little eyes glinting grey, gazing out to Third Avenue the way a farmer does his crop.

He had the patience only age can teach- the still, sturdy, wise air of witnessing and being a part of decay. Wise and old, or old enough to seem wise; I couldn’t tell. An old man can say just about whatever he wants and get an absolute veneration from me. Remnants of my inner Catholic I’ve yet to snuff out: respecting elders and thinking too highly of them, feeling overwhelmed by guilt if I didn’t. Or possibly I trusted experience more than anything, because the hardness of life is also a teacher. And from what I’ve seen, we don’t learn as much from happiness as we do from the scars of healing.

“Esperanza, is a plant. They eat it, and then,” He ran his index finger along his neck, a universal sign, clicking his teeth. The little calf was done.

I felt a stubborn, humid heat smoldering my skin. It was close to 10AM but the day didn’t seem to want to start. Sunlight lingered on the horizon and yawned across the fruit cart vendors temples, slouched between the children across the avenue who’d stopped jumping and found more interest staring at their own feet. Lazy, dingy rays dragged between the plastic lids nestling in the gutter, crawled along the sidewalk and halfway up the 99 Cent and bodega storefronts. Then, just near the top, seemed to wince and suddenly retreat, giving up on ever moving on with the day. The morning was a low, dull Monday: fat, bloated, and sitting on itself, waiting.

But for what?

“Why do they eat it,” I asked. “If it’s poison.” And Mingo shrugged.

Esperanza is a flower, bright and beautiful with yellow petals. And Esperanza is also hope, just as bright and ruinous. I couldn’t decide which he meant, what he was referring to: the toxins or definition. And as I wondered this, Mingo dug his shoes into the sidewalk and began to show his roots.

“I killed somebody once,” He said unexpectedly. “Coz’ of a woman.”

He was calm, not sad or entirely delighted. Not resentful, or proud, but with the air of a man that’s lived, and in living, was reflective of what he had done. I lack the grace to remain kind in cruel situations, but a hot heart for the coldest matters. Mingo had purposefully either confided in me as a friend, or turned the sanctuary of our corner into his personal confession booth. And in either scenario I couldn’t think of what to say, so chose to remain silent and sip the bottle of Jameson as if he’d just commented on the weather. I preferred to come off as indifferent than commit to either condoning or forgiving him, listened as a cars exhaust coughed awkwardly down the road.

“You got a girl?” He asked after a while.

Down the street, a gilded goddesses hips swayed toward us, and she reminded me of a girl I reminded myself to forget. Gray eyes with dark, somber lips; the kind of face easy to compliment and hard to miss-remember. I was staring and I didn’t care, and the longer I dared the sooner I realized that familiar was just wistful thinking. She didn’t look anything like her. Her face, the angles, the sighs were all wrong. She didn’t have the unhappiness riddled along the creases of her cheeks, she didn’t hold me like a gasp for air while crying at the sight of her hand or freckled forearm.

She passed us swiftly, her heels clicking behind her like a round of applause, and swooped around the corner. Mingo slapped his lips again, and the girl I had almost remembered was gone.

“Yeah,” I said to Mingo, and I heard the sound of his neck creaking a nod.

Strange, the debris our hearts seem to build even after years of street cleaning. Odd, how songs still sound the same but lose meaning once outgrown. The plastic bag still rustled between the limbs of an old and wrinkled tree, and a car horn’s scream got louder, but sounded just a little farther off. The wind died down, the cups sat silently in the gutter, and I thought there was a kind of music to the pollution of a human being.

“Never killed anybody for her though,” I added, and Mingo laughed, ominously.

“You might,” He said.

I clipped my cigarette and said goodbye.

A Man Can’t Live Off Of Cupcakes

One neon purple stage, mascara studded women, seven rowdy young men and a lucky Groom-To-Be.

John, sensible and thoughtful John, was settling down with a chipper Vietnamese girl he’d met on holiday two years ago come Spring. Tonight we see him off with too much alcohol and feminine qualities, of the nude variety, doubts on marriage. The male prerogative: just one chick from now ’til forever?,’ is a vehement reprimand on settling down, so we slap his back and call him a fag for the very human desire for stability.

It’s all just a ceremony before he’s gone to the doghouse, the wife, the old ball and chain. Another man down with an arrow to the knee, and while all the idioms are there, the feelings don’t seem to sink in.

In three weeks John will still be John- our John, whether at the altar or the pubs. We talk about old times, share a few looks to the women bending every which way. They have names, but we forget them, either out of respect or because of how little they really meant, so we dub refer to them by their epithets: Left Tits, Yoga Pants, Sesame Street, Brooklyn Bridge and Coyote Ugly. Ivan complains we’re down to a four man team, and while we joke the night away I can’t help but wonder: what ring, what woman or family tears any fabric any worse than time, or distance?

And though I say nothing else but watch the night with a smile, John and I exchange a glance that tells me we have an understanding.

“You scared?” Is all I ask. He takes a moment, then shakes his head.

“Nah, I’m ready.” I nod along and shake his hand, join the rest for the moment we both know about to come.

Ivan, lumbering and brutish Ivan, seemed to forget us all as he stood closest to the stage. Every now and then his deep baritone cat calls echoing through the room along with butterfly kisses, laced in ten dollar bills and 90’s TRL level “WOO’s.” The nights main courses dance and pose, tug and heel on the thin thread of a green paperback leash. Like dreams they came and went, soothed and whispered, body shots and oh-honey-that-cost-extra’s.

Eventually Ivan gathered us together, another circle, another toast.

“To John!” Then down the hatch, bitter shots all around. Then with a wave comes in tonights bride, Blonde and clad in nothing, dragging a somber looking John away.

“This one’s on me Johnny!” Is all that Ivan says, and some of us laugh without saying what’s happening. But we know. We all know.

That back room door opened and closed, we slapped backs and watch Tits and Tramp Stamp strutting skin and sex like nothings happened, but deep down we all know. A small objection lumps in my throat, but I wash it down with another beer and stare straight ahead like a fool. Tramp Stamp’s areolas tilt and almost seem to ask me why I lose my voice when moments are so critical.

Five, ten, twenty minutes. An eternity when you’re on the other side of a waiting room. Close to an hour later we’re all winding down but John is nowhere to be seen. We hear a creak, the back door opens, Blonde emerges wearing a grin, hips and eyes batting triumphantly. The boys are a riot, a series of firecrackers cackling, while John comes out limping, belt haggard as his face marching toward us. He face lean, thinner that he usually is, eyes cloaked in shadows and fringing on regret. Another circle, another toast. More cheers, more jokes, more prods and laughter, but John is solemn as a vow. His blood red eyes meet the group, a stun silence gives way to whimpers.

“I fucking love my wife man, I-…fuck.”

Nobody says a word. Nobody is sure of what to say. We look to one another like we’re clueless, like we don’t understand the cause or what to blame. But we know.

Deep down, we all know.

Some Goodbyes Don’t Require It (aka There’s Three Sides To A Story For Every Beast With Two Backs)

“Everyone says you two are fucking,” Lindsey tells me, flat as an iron, or her chest. Whichever is less cliché and more offensive.

We’d stayed friends despite myself, or rather, she stayed on talking terms with me no matter how much I didn’t deserve it.

I asked who started spreading, focusing on the stack of files in front of me, but she wouldn’t say. Gossip is for gluttons with a reserved taste: they only feed if they are fed, and I had nothing to barter with. Besides, we’d had a past, shared scotch cobblers and orgasms between shrills and bolognese. It’s much harder than you would expect to find a middle ground when the candle of a relationship burns out on both ends. Easier to abandon ship, call her crazy and him an asshole, keep that kind memory of how much they meant buried somewhere so deep you can pretend to forget about it. Right next to your 6th grade friends phone number, or the thing you said to your father.

“People say a lot of things,” I said, because I didn’t care about Lindsey any more.

But I cared for Lindsey, if that makes any sense.

And if I could omit a line of history so that her rage could remain in hypotheticals, she’d sleep easier while still hating me the same for it.

“Well are you.” She said, not asking.

“Am I what?” I asked, not saying.

“Fucking her.” She demanded.

Right and wrong, the difference between righteous and a travesty. I used to know the difference. I was a good man once, but a long time ago I learned a good man is good for nothing.

“No, right now I’m filing,” I said.

So she smacked me.

CANDY LOTTO BEER CHIPS CIGARETTES

I-Just-Wish-I-Was-Home doesn’t mean much until it’s 5 AM and I’m skinless once again.

My baby doesn’t mind the perfume huff and steaming of cigar smoke. She kisses me like it were something funny, laughs at the haste on my tongue like it was a joke. Keeps me hanging in her arms loaded and waiting like a punch line, when her parents are asleep but what’s fifteen minutes in my car downstairs. My hands on her and mind on Thalia, thick and bubble with a quench to make your ends go POP.

But she’s gone home with flies and I’m still hungry as the wolf for Elis’ soft purrs.

Soare cu dinti as the Romans say, but you never know how wet it is until you get inside.

“You taste like a strip club,” Elis says with a sour face, a quarter into it and half complaining.

“Can’t be. I’m Catholic.” I said dimming.She laughs like it were something funny and the tongue on her taste is ruinous.

I’ve got blues black enough to make the moon go silent, stars stark as the amber gloss on her faded pajama top and stretched nylons. Dark hearts, sea-saw’d faults, one swing and a slide on a lark to hands fumbling for meaning. Absolution for dummies, prayer made easy: all it takes is a good idea gone bad in a passenger seat to make a sin, all we’ll wake to is alarm clocks, sweat, and porcelain kisses. 

Soare cu dinti as the Romans say, but you never know how wet it is until you get inside.

“There,” she hums. “Right there.”

“Where,” I drum. “Tell me where,”

She isn’t wearing panties, just cut-off jeans and a weak hurt. Neither was Thalia. Brown like the dawn and burning honest as a truth left burning on a text message. A tout touch touched terrifically. Weak and wishing. Honorably hungry.

I didn’t care enough to tell one from the other. I couldn’t tell the difference and let myself balloon on the air of two sweet jaded frictions. Numb without a word. Come devout and sure. Whispers that she’s mine while the sun is rising to make us human.

And then it started raining.

If Your Husband Gets Home Early We’ll Be Nicked At Six (aka 20-Love)

Dianysia doesn’t speak, she purrs.

When I stared into those bright, cloudy pools of milk and caramel she calls eyes a dark desire fills my heart and all extremities. Like burning alive, but on a smaller scale, and there was no lie in that fire. My nerves tingled in a calm excitement and I became painfully aware of my own senses, sensitive to the slightest touch that tethered us on the springy mattress. Swathed in the pale moonlight and sunrise in her eyes, pulled and forced towards her every word like a marionette by a string.

“Do you have a wife?” She asked me casually, and I answered no. “A girlfriend then,” she pressed, and in the soft intimacy of her legs wrapped in mine, I confess to so-and-so’s.

To my heart having grown brash, bitter and unstable. That I didn’t trust these whims and so called feelings, because they’d betrayed me, and in their wake I found less beauty in life and even lesser in myself. Sentiments leave a wound and I’d never been able to resist a scab, yet it was in that flame of deception and lies that I was tempered, and I was surprised to find my mettle too strong to be extinguished or emolded.

“There’s something in the way you look at me,” she began. “I don’t think anyone’s ever looked at me like you do.”

Outside the burros were crying to the dry and arid sky. A cricket chirped, two coyotes wailed at the moon, and between the bitter thyme’s of guitars whining at the night air, it began to rain. Began to wet the still and thirsty earth so yearning for its due.

Dianysia mewled and I feel her warm heart thump against the imprint of my palm, the crease and edges of her skin smooth and told a story to my fingertips like braille. It was five am and soon a cab would call me down to home and other sunsets, and the notion numbed me. I couldn’t bare the thought, to leave her side or moment unfulfilled. But what did it matter that we lay together, when sleep would tear us apart and a dream will keep us separate.