Fall brings out the optimist in me. As the trees tinge yellow, red, then an inevitable dark and muddy brown stomped lifelessly into the mud and sewers of the sidewalk, I get a little giddy. Autumn is a reminder of how beautiful the death of things can be, that life is but an episode among a series of joys, woes, and cosmic indifference to both. Don’t get me wrong- the syndication is a good one, a classic as far as I’m concerned, but always on the brink of being cancelled.
The Arrested Development of existentialism, in so many more ways than one.
For me, October is a time when the air is always thick and wet, loaded as sentences and on the verge of rain. Where my nostalgia goes into overdrive and I’m overrun in moments that are bulging like clouds, but just as empty and easy to navigate. Standing near the bus stop the first day of school with a oversized Dragonball Z hoodie, and power level at an underwhelming under nine thousand. Kissing Tiffany in Bryant Park while something under our feet crunched loudly, and made the world smell like skin and an end to childhood. Sundays saying goodbye to my father after another awful weekend sharing a bed in his shitty little bedroom apartment.
The experience is a winter wonderland of wondering where all that time has gone, but I don’t want to come off as a nihilist. To be honest, as I get older, I no longer look to the past as often. But when I do, I look back at it all much more fondly. I want to reach out and call someone I haven’t spoken to or of in years, just to remind Tiffany, Kevin, Jimmy, Corina, or hell, even my father, that at some point I loved them dearly.
But sobriety makes empty feel like more than it really is, so I let those sentiments wither with the foliage and double down on the idea that I’m taking the weather too personally. I’m an optimist, and while it’s all going to hell, I’m not so obsessed with disappointment to not look forward to what might come after Winter. I’ve come to terms with the cup half emptied and don’t care to bother where the other half is gone. I want nothing more than to enjoy what’s left of the bitter coffee, jacketed weather, wind snubbed cigarettes and I-Miss-You texts the season warrants.
“Unca Chino, you’re sleeping and awake again,” Xavier said, a little four foot anchor keeping me from ballooning to those far and dizzying heights.
Luckily I spend these days too busy babysitting my nephews to spend it self mutilating in alcohol and scabs that have long-since healed. It was around 9PM, I remember, and after an obligatory afternoon playing catch and pretend body-slamming them on the collection of leaves we spent all morning gathering on the lawn, I was tired. I ordered a pizza and plugged them into a movie and video games while I brewed coffee that came out especially bitter. It was drizzling, and the raindrops ricochet against the window sill started to say something my mouth and heart could only mumble. I’d had a disgusting dream about toilets, teeth, and spiders, and the dreary sounds of wetness from outside made more sense of it than I could.
Rain speaks to me, the same way it speaks to you and every other writer this side of the century. We aren’t special. It’s not so strange how nature can make a noise that nears closer to truth than anything words can make up. There isn’t more honestly to life, vague sounds just allow for more projection.
“Shower time losers,” I said. “First one that doesn’t smell like feet gets ice cream before bed.” They dashed up the stairs and I leaned my ear closer to the window.
There was another sound besides my melancholy that drew my heart and curiosity closer. Howling, is the only word that came to mind. Howling and guitars. The running waters from their baths upstairs gave me an opportunity, so I used the chance to sneak outside and satiate my greater habits. Cigarettes and busy-bodying.
I took to the driveway where the sound was closest, casually lit a stick of reprieve and sullied along the hedges. Those Jones-town bushes parted and gave way to the neighbors house, a cozy two-story suburbia, complete with a overly playful dog and little balcony facing my sisters house. That was when I saw her.
…Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
She was moonshining on the porch with a bottle of bourbon, her voice trailing along the sad bluegrass like static against the mini-speakers . A playful little beagle with a wet and button nose started whining at my jeans and cigarette smoke through the gate dividing me from her porch. His searching eyes much sadder than whatever guitar strings she sung three beats off key. I couldn’t see her very well, just silhouettes and blonde streaks my mind filled the blanks of.
It was so cinematic- single guy, cute dog, and a drunk white girl waxing lyrics at the moon; shipwrecked on a second story balcony by some emotional disaster. The pretense was a bit pretentious, even as I was living it, but they say that life imitates art, so I was comely to the cliche of it all. Reached down to scratch behind the mutts ears and whimpers to remind him of what a good boy he was.
“Is that The Avett Brothers?” I asked out loud, knowing full well that it was.
“I thank so,” her accent said, a bit surprised and to my enjoyment.
I let the silence build and focused my attention to scratching where his tail wagged the wildest. Too many words are the enemy of mystery, and the few we shared I carefully loaded to be as exciting and interesting as they could be. My father was a dog, a trait he handed down dutifully to me and my brother. Don’t talk so damn much, he used to say. All these men think the way is sweet talking. A woman likes a man that knows when to shut the fuck up.
The proof is in the pudding, and I’ve got enough step-brothers and sisters to vouch for whatever his methods were.
That woman, she’s got eyes that shine.
Like a pair of stolen polished dimes.
She asked to dance I said it’s fine,
I’ll see you in the morning time.
They say you can’t make sense out of a sentiment, but I can quantify the fuck out of a feeling. For instance, I started following some girl on Reddit that only makes quotes with little accents over the i’s and n’s. I don’t speak the language or understand a damned thing she says, but I damn sure like seeing it. Might be Italian, I think, or Spanish? I can never tell which, and to be honest, I would much rather never know at all. Ambiguity is what makes whatever the hell she’s saying so alluring, and a translation would be a mutilation and only ruin the magic. The not knowing is what makes it as fun as coloring books.
That’s why people watching is only fun with strangers.
“When I was in Tennessee, that’s all I heard between the bars.” I said. And her silhouette either nodded or examined me critically in response.
“My friends can’t stand it, but I really like some country songs.” I added, even though I didn’t. A bad habit: playing a game of two truths and a lie but not telling anybody.
I used to tell myself the horndog gene doubled down on my brother and skipped me. It was practically tradition that every Christmas the family gathered to hear one of the crazy situations and women Joseph got himself into over the years. There was the wife that flew him out to Miami just to bone him whenever her husband got too drunk and fell asleep. Threesomes with cousins who he admitted to me were actually sisters, but didn’t want to gross mom out.
“My parents use to play these songs when we lived in _________, and I hated ’em. Now it’s all I ever listen to.”
“Where’s ___________?” I asked.
“Kentucky,” she said. And I smiled, because destiny has a terrible sense of humor.
“So is that Jamison, Old Grandad, or Jim Bean in your cup?”
She laughed, a dry and raspy thing, bordering between the crisp and crunchy stomp of an Autumn leaf. Or smokers lung.
“You Rey’s brother?” She asked.
“No, the other ones.”
“Those boys are too damn old to be called babies.” I said.
“You want a taste?” She said, raising a hazy outline of the bottle she was drinking.
“Not yet,” I said, and the image of my sister finding out flashed before my eyes the way movies say your life does right before you’re dead.
There was a long pause in the chilled and country New York air, filled only by honking cars and the beagles front paws scratching against the gate for my attention. His breathing heavy with huffed intentions of trying to get over the waist-high barrier between us.
I’m old enough to know the quick wiles of young women. Dumb enough to have experienced the fleeting fancies of the older ones. And oversexed enough to not give a damn about the disasters brought by both.
Her darkness, even from a vague distance, felt so warm and familiar. Comforting- like your room with the blinds are shut tight and it’s an annoyingly sunny day outside.
“If you hear country, I’ll be out here.” She said.
I waved a silent goodbye, gave her pooch some goodbye rough-housing, and sauntered back inside. Xavier was huddled in his 3DS and Ian was coveting an arms race of nerf guns by his bedside. They’d forgotten about the ice cream, and thinking about what awaited outside, I pondered doing the same.
Wondered if these violent delights always needed such thigh-ish ends. If I could break myself from doggish genetics and spend all night with two kids hopped up on ice cream. If I could abort these veins and be more than these base desires. Or are these speculations as sour as the bourbon that could be overflowing my cup. I wanted to be sweet as the mood it seasons and affords, easy as the Hello-Is-That-The-Avett-Brothers I’m showcasing in glassed smiles. It’s a weeknight and she might have work in the morning, but then again so do I. Is it worth getting started on tonight and well on my way to hating myself tomorrow? With alarm clock reminders nagging my pocket, the world knocking violently, trying to abrupt the bluegrass dream. Responsibilities begging at me, like a puppy scratching at the door.
After all if mistakes are what we call experience, then a man is made of them. So if I were to go, I would not be irresponsible. I would merely be building character.
Oh, those empty hours where my righteous rises from the deep. Do I have to? Choose, I mean. Between the calm or the storm. Can’t I be both? Loud and quiet, like the eye of a hurricane.
“All right boys,” I yelled.
“It’s time to-…