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.

Cassie, Episode III (aka Baby It’s Cold Outside- So I Hope You Called An Uber)

Most people are barely people and I’ve met everyone twice. Personalities copy and pasted from recycled memes you can find on Reddit, who pretend to exhibit behaviors they borrow from social disorders on Wikipedia. Give a hungry man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day, but give him the internet, and he’ll probably spend it anonymously calling other fish faggots right before his 10AM Sociology class.

“Gotta light?” She asked me outside, with peach mixed moscato on her breath and the feint scent of burning incense lingering in her hair.

She had a way with people- even in my heightened state of over compassion I could tell as much. There was a manner she looked your way that was so notable, that felt like suddenly hearing your name in public, but with eyes. Disarming and little captivating; how being noticed always is. And yes, it helped that she was beautiful. An all-American vee’d chin with an uncle named Chip, that mythical half they must be talking about when they mention two point five kids and a picket fence.

“Brighter than you know,” I replied, and struck a fire for her.

“You’re funny,” She said grinning, smoke and hair billowing from her nose. “You look unmade, and a little dangerous. But I can’t believe you smoke this menthol crap.”

She played it loose and hated slow songs, always kept a 20 hidden in her bra because mama didn’t raise a sucker, and she’d herded her own fair share of douchebags. Ink resembling May 2nd with a year I can’t remember occasionally trailing from out her sleeves.

“If I’m going to slowly kill myself, I’m going to do it right.” I said.

Her name was Cassie, not with a y, and it was short for Cassandra but don’t you fuckin’ dare ever call her that.  Stacked to a low 5’4″ on her tippy toes- beautiful skin tinted in a blushed red, lips curved like a sunset or rose tinted Cupid’s bow. She had it going on, beautiful, but basic at best, eye shadow of a modern fashionista, but not the kind daft enough enough to romanticize vogue models or an eating disorder.

“I can’t handle it, I’ve got a VSD.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s like a hole in your heart,”

“I’m so sorry,” I replied. “What was his name?”

She was not a miserable person, nowhere near delicate- only threaded, maybe. Overexposed like an electric wire in the rain. A victim to the elements and boys who swear they’re different. With a hot heart for the coldest matters and a gentleness that feels more earned than inherent, she cried when she missed her train for work just like any body else. That bitter and hardened exterior only a New York experience can make.

“Who you here with?” She asked, squinting at something other than the smoke in her face.

But I’ve been wrong before.

It’s All Over With Humanity- But There’s Still You and I, Stranger. Two Of Us Left

“It’s getting late in my city and from my window I can see the people shuffling from the warm Summer air to their homes, bars, beds or orgies, and I wonder where their life is taking them. Also sometimes the color of their underwear.

I like to count people in public and anti-socialize. Today I’m at 103 and a lady who asked me what I was writing called me a faggot under her breath when I walked away, so I must be doing something right. It takes a while to get self efficient, to really enjoy anything if you’re alone doing it. Kisses are nice but I prefer letters, because intent has a wider palette than the tongue, and I’ve got the cowardly heart of a man which makes me prone to sex and bad decisions. So now I spend my afternoons wandering the lust away instead of dulling it in a bar or bedroom.

While I’m walking I can’t help notice there’s something so unnatural about cities: paved roads along concrete sidewalks with giant, monstrous buildings that tower over you. They make you feel so small, how they loom over you like that. And the trees, so thin, and miserable. Branches so small they might fall off with the next strong wind down Park Avenue. Trees out of breath and just about shaking from how sick they are. Besides, from what I read they aren’t even really trees. They’re decorative; some advanced faux-wood, constantly trimmed and cut and probably kept on a drug to keep them from ever growing too much. Everything about New York is artificial; dressed up, disguised. Flashing signs on stores and awnings, marquee billboards. Bright lights, dull city, overexposed to the man-made elements. Like Plato’s burning cave, but with neon lights and too much tits on magazine covers.

It makes them complacent so complacent, all 103 of them. So complacent they don’t notice anything. Like sometimes, I see snow. I’ll be out on Madison Avenue in the middle of Summer and I’ll see snowflakes, tiny and quick, flurrying all over the street. And I’m obviously shocked, but when I look around to see other people’s reactions, nobody else seems to notice while they power walk down the street in a rush to absolutely nowhere. Snow, in the middle of god damn Summer, and nobody seems to notice.

But if someone were to ask me about it, I’d probably call them a faggot under my breath when they walked away.”

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.

Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful (aka Any Mythical Beast Try To Step They Are Catching These Hands)

Evenings are my clementine, when the sun dips and the world bundles into itself. An atmosphere perfect for the monomania of melancholy, where the mass of sound has a quiet you’re afraid to disturb. Like a cutting board to gut these thoughts. There’s dirt beneath my fingernails and my lungs taste like apple cider beers and tinder. Tents pitched some distance apart, the soft swish of sifting body bags and sex tinge the air.

Beyond the bonfire is a boundless void and damp darkness, with monsters, goblins, ghouls and God knows what lurking in the shadows. Twigs snap, earth brushed, A movement that isn’t human and yellow eyes dancing wildly out in the expanse. I stand and take my phone like a lantern towards them, because bourbon veins and my sex make me courageous. Let me face demons before the lush or my virtue fades untested.

I am alone but not, in a quiet I am afraid to disturb.  Like in my city I am braving the night, but in a different type of solidarity. There is no loneliness in nature, only peace and an acute sense of how insignificant you are. But as the moon makes wet shadows on the floor and I raise my sword, the monsters that greet me have names. Tara, Joseph and Adam. Lost, bleary, red eyed, high and chuckling; empty head nods.

A deep desire for isolation overwhelms me. I want to be alone, but more so. To be by myself is not enough. Some pieces would remain, parts, fragments, fractions of dismantled moments floating through the recess of all that thought they knew me. All my love(s) and acquaintances stumbling on a memory of me like a tombstone. Notebooks full of words and a catalogue of half-started almosts. Someone somewhere would come across something Summer or frost enough to summon me and think, Oh-Yeah-Just-Like-Him. Pollute me with their thoughts. No, I want to be alone, but more so. Memory is a form of life, a mental gossip, social whisper, scandal and internal dialogue. Casual inferences never spoken but permanently embedded in thoughts. I crave something more permanent- to be erased and irreversibly forgotten.

To be alone without the pollution of what another person thinks.

To face monsters, not people.