This Happened Before The Quarantine, So Nobody Can Judge Me Now (aka Cassie, Episode IV; A New Hope)

By 6PM we were getting eighty-six’d down a string of bars on Amsterdam, where I made ends in low places and chased my blues away in short skirts and everything except a positive outlet. Old stomping grounds where I’ve got a reputation worse than Diogenes, pictures of me hanging from The Lions Head on 109th Street all the way down to the Dead Poets Cafe.

NO ADMITTANCE written in thick, bold and black letters like a wanted poster from the old west. After all these years they hadn’t taken it down, and I couldn’t tell if it was because times change and people forget, or if the bounty on my head was worth so much to the bartender I called a thieving crook cunt for stealing tips and the bouncer who cold-cocked me. Don’t bother asking, because I won’t be telling you that story. It’ll be up to you filling in the blanks and decide if I deserved it or not.

“These’re some friends from work,” Cassie briefed me on our way to the table. “So don’t fuckin’ embarrass me.”

She charged ahead and I followed, passed by my college footprint staring back at me with that wide, stupid grin and a smile I can only describe as It-Was-Worth-It–So-Fuck-You-Too. I don’t remember being so reckless, but the look was something I recognized. There was a dog on my walk home from middle school that had it, these solid black eyes that could be so quiet and almost tender, but the stillness is what made him  terrifying. That gave the distinct impression of what they say comes right before a storm.

“Well now that’s all I want to do,” I said. “What’s a touchier subject for them- religion or white guilt?”

Coming back to Amsterdam Avenue was in a ways a sort of homecoming. I might have missed the ceremony but still graduated sorta-come-loudly. And what better venue to revisit my putida alma mater than the bar I met Sheila in before we painted this whole city red with our stupid fights about Facebook and juvenile love. Which, funny enough, had the same name as the guy who taught me how to pop a beer bottle open with a lighter.

“Me pretendin’ I don’t know you and you’re following me around,” Cassie replied.

Jake’s Dilemma, is what they called it; and his was like mine: Do – or – Don’t.  An easy answer when I was young, back when this place was a big deal because the bulldogs those pretty waitresses asked you to try while leaning just a little too close needed a goddamn leash, and they hung a bunch of bras over the bar top for reasons that were none of your fucking business (if you were stupid like me enough to ask why.)

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.” I said. “Better be safe and just talk about my dead parents.”

I guess back then I had a hard on for experiences I would now consider in-genuine. Chasing highs in low places with my dick leading the way like a diving rod. My first memories of hunger surfacing in a language I couldn’t speak, but understood. I craved, wanted, needed and surrendered to these wordless demands my body exhausted me with. Cocaine might be a hell of a drug, but have you ever tried it on sex? Rolling down a hill of physical inclinations every single fucking night, waking up and not remembering where or how you got the bruise. Life lessons that I lost to whiskey sours, Sheila, Cassie, myself, and the infinite desires of the body.

“Is that really how you wanna go down t’night? The weirdo, then,” Cassie said grinning, eyes propped up so high they almost became a part of her hairline.

Madness may be doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, but to ruin yourself on a nightly basis for the fuck of it doesn’t have a name yet. For me it was an instinct, a deep and natural longing that watched over and laughed at me as I tried to not swear and give a damn about starving kids in Africa. An impulse that was impossible to ignore, and the nights I tried to was when I learned why lions pace around their cage.  And I was happy, to be honest, letting Jesus take the wheel while I didn’t believe in God. Wounded, really, although I couldn’t say from what.

“I guess not,” I said, trying to look like I wasn’t trying to smile.

And now, much like then, I think, when I look at it from a distance, it seemed to be happening to someone else. And through that lens, unhealthy as it was, or is, it also happens to hurt a lot less.

“How do you want to be remembered, then?” She asked, tugging on the strings of her sideways eight pendant dangling from her collar bone.

“Vividly,”  I said, infinitely wondering what the fuck I was doing.

Malade Imaginaire (Cassie, Episode I)

There was a stale remnant of the weekend hanging on my breath, a dark and shapeless nag pestering against the flickering subway lights and dimming silver handrails. Thick and smothering between pressed buttoned shirts, noose ties and summer dresses huddled on the express Lexington avenue bound for midtown before a final stop to nowhere. My thoughts felt like strangers at a party,  huddled close to one another but no one knowing what to say.

A small-suited man bumped against my shoulder and apologized. I meant to do the same, opened my lips to speak, but they did not make a sound. I glanced up at the dead eyed glare of an Asian woman baring her teeth in what some might call a smile. A poster for a college or language learning center. Bold, black marker graffiti obscured most of it, so that the only visible parts were the slender neck of a woman and a tagline written in a worn, exciting red.

“GENERATION AFTER G NE ATION!!!” It said.

I got off the next stop, sent a vague text to my boss about feeling sick and began to wander Manhattan. Everywhere was a feint, hostile, seething unrest bubbled from the gum spotted granite sidewalks; steaming softly from the city grates like vapor. While the oak and marble fronts of restaurants, businesses and delicatessens glistened with the unnatural sheen and polish of something new and untouched. Beautiful and prosthetic.

It was all so awful.

I wanted to be drunk, or dead, or anything except that feeling lingering beneath my tongue like a razor blade. To forget myself and all my troubles, if only for a little while.

It was only 7AM but in my heart it was twenty minutes to last call; and I had all day to no longer feel human. I have to forget, otherwise I fall in a pit of something. A madness and not the poetic kind. The mad kind. The kind that roams the empty city at 5am smiling at the air. The kind that wakes up in strange apartments and motel rooms wet in somebody else’s sweat without a clue or memory of how he got there. The kind that talks and wiles like it’s all just a clever little game, but is burning alive, is howling in laughs and I-Like-Your-Hair.  The kind that’s quietly out to ruin something because a moaning in his blood compels him to, reminds him it’s all just a cosmic accident and that devils do not exist, were molded after men. And women.

Terrible for each other, and much worse for anyone else.

My Baby Takes The Morning Train, When Uber Pool Is Too Expensive (aka I’d Quit Tomorrow If Sheena Asked Me To Stay)

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.

Items In The Rearview May Appear Larger Than They Really Are (and who says they aren’t even bigger?)

Not much to show for the boys who grew up the way I did. Juveniles only in it for the thrills, no arrest record, money piles or illegitimate children this side east of the Hudson. All we’ve got to show for broken windows and slammed doors are vague drug-laced memories and Instagram photos. (Profile private, because we did it for us, not the for the likes.)

Ivan’s doing pretty alright last I checked. Moved in with a thick thighed prize this past Spring.  I could tell he was in love because the club pics started coming in less and less, replaced with vacation snaps with Lo-Fi filters and her big hair on that thin body waving like the palm trees behind them.  I like to see my people doing well, even if it isn’t with me.  The last time I tried to get Ive on a plane he called out broke, then bought the Pathfinder he’s been shining on ever since. Caught an attitude when me and the boys mentioned all the Island-Girls he missed. Said a bunch of guys going overseas is some…well, let’s just say he didn’t agree.

I think it takes a woman to make a man do all the things he’s afraid to. Peer pressure has never put someone they don’t want to be. We’re cowards, really. Crowded around a blunt, six pack, video game or sports bullshit. Children wrestling in verbal warfare with manhood and ourselves. Too silly to be serious. It takes a woman to make a man do things he isn’t prepared to. Crimes of passion are just another way of saying Her-Sex-Was-Good-Enough-To-Make-Him-Do-That.

Joe’s struggling with a baby and a mortgage, same man that swore any girl trying to tie him down better have some strong ass rope. I like his son, David, for weird reasons. Nothing special about the little herb, but he’s the first born of our generation. When I see him chasing fireworks I wonder if he’ll chase lows the way we did. Monkey room looming with too much hookah in our system. Fistfights and Miller Lights coursing through our blood. Dangerous as bulls, hungry, like wolves. Amsterdam avenue thugging, but not really. The college boys were afraid of us being the darkest thing besides the sofas or bouncers. We just needed somewhere to wander until the night or some girls bed could cool our blood.

Not much to show for the boys who grew up the way I did. Just pockets full of memories and the good kind of regret.

 

I Told A Witch Doctor I Was In Love With You. And Then The Witch Doctor, He Told Me What To Do, He Said {get over it}

Tonight I’ve got an appetite for applying love songs to someone it doesn’t belong.

I’m only Marlboro Red-ing when I’m heavy into missing you at 2 in the morning. People are disposable, and I overlook them like songs I used to love and skip without a thought when they come up on a playlist.Contingent on the inevitable, when I can tell something is close to its ending I can’t help looking elsewhere. Skimming to the back page of a boring book, always opening another beer before I’ve even finished the last one. It isn’t wasteful, but a muscle memory that makes me tentative of what’s ahead. Admitting an early defeat and preparing for the next one. Head full of grays and a heart full of yesterday. The feelings that live inside me are cannibals, constantly feeding off of one another.

Trying to decipher them is an exercise in futility, like second marriages, or microwaving French fries. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment.

But I go through the motions. Hop on a midnight train to South Houston on nothing but a buzz and Metrocard. On a road to nowhere and baby I’m in a rush, to Coralines, to the bar you kind of liked and where I wander into when the mood of you strikes and hits too hard to stay home. Sometimes I haunt where we had a life like a specter, and the way I see it, you can take your goddamn love, but I’m keeping the memories (and the dog.)

I need someone to blame it on anyway.

I love this place now, Coralines, even if the music is shit and the drinks are watered down. The walls are crumbling and the floor is always dingy, but I love this place, because it’s where I loved you, once. I love this place and all the personal secrets it holds. The stool you slipped and fell off of when we first met, the ash trays graffitied in ashes and name-tags we swore we would add our names to but never did. The corner table where we held each other as if it were the only thing keeping us from falling into the crowd or sky. Where we fell so deep into each other. Each half emptied beer can and wilted counter flower is a display case in my own personal museum of one of the happiest moments in my life.

And don’t get me wrong: this is not some all or nothing confession/attempt to win you back. There is no recovering from where we’ve been, no going back since what we’ve done to each other. But I like having somewhere so loud with joy, somewhere I can come to forget the now and slip into yesterday without needing the bottle. You always said I drank too much, not to forget, but to remember.

I can have this and not want to have you back, can’t I?