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.”

Cassie, Episode II (aka Never Go Out Of Your Way To Be Unkind)

That morning I had called in sick to work on my way there, because something about subway posters at 7AM can just be so fucking depressing? Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors trying to sell you college courses, some stupid movie, or Old Navy cargo shorts. Baby crying in a stroller, some asshole blasting music through the speaker on his iPhone, some sixty people crowded side by side with nobody saying a fucking thing. Just the hum of the subway train burrowing to Manhattan.

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung, 

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” 

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

It was enough to make a man exhausted, too tired to clock in and pretend to give a shit about Bridget’s new baby or an Excel spreadsheet. And if you can’t relate to that, well, then this story isn’t for you, bud. 

So I sent a text pretending I was sick and got off on 96th street, booked a room at Carmine’s like I used to when I was more degenerate. I wanted to get away, needed a low cost escape and bottom shelf liquor type of abandoning ship, and not knowing where to go, I went back to Amsterdam Avenue, where I had traumatic and yet awesome times in my youth. An instinctive return to chaos and creation; natural, the way sea turtles go back to die or lay eggs in the same beaches where they’re born.

There’s also such a safety in what’s familiar, how easy it is to slide into old habits like a pair of your favorite jeans. 

After an hour of checking and settling in to my room I hopped back on the train downtown. I had to get to 79th, which was where the bars stopped and everything south became  skyscrapers and big businesses. Suits, ties and bored housewives walking yorkies on their way to $200 manicures. Not my tempo or atmosphere, to say the least.

The subway was less crowded by then, only a handful of bodies too distinct and all over the place  to categorize as 9-5’ers.  Those wide, grinning, dead-eyed actors on the posters didn’t bother me as much. I felt better, knowing I was on my way to a good time I should not be having. I sat down and let the hum of the subway train burrowing through Manhattan rock me gently to all the irresponsible things I planned on doing. Satisfied, anticipating, feeling like I escaped.  

“BECAUSE DISEASE IS NOT OF GOD.” A womans voice, booming, echoing. I didn’t look, because I didn’t care. Religious fanatics were pretty common at any hour of the day on any corner of New York.

“SATAN IS THE AUTHOR. HAPPINESS RESIDES IN YOUR HEART, BUT YOU SHRINK FROM THE LIGHT. YOU HIDE FROM GRACE. YOU WALK IN DARKNESS.” 

79th Street came and I stepped out of the subway car, the woman’s voice echoing behind me as the doors closed. 

“But what about your soul?”

Stand clear of the closing doors, please. 

“But what about your soul?”

Ding-doon. Ding-doon.

“But what about your soul?”

Kachung, Kachung, Kachung. 

“But what about your soul!?”

The Agony Columns: Katherine

Constantly being concerned with being a better person is cause enough to realize I don’t actually believe myself to be one, and I honestly try my best not to hurt someone else’s feelings while I pursue my own space and happiness.

At least, that’s the reasoning I use for when Evan says he loves me, and I lie and say that I love him too. And I did, I know I did, at some point, because I can’t deny those Summers when I’d watch him working on his car from the rooftop of our house and he was all I could think about. 

Our parents were kind of friends but we only knew each other in passing, because in a small town like ours if you didn’t it was obvious you were doing it on purpose. He was tall- even when we were teenagers he towered above most of us, and even some of the teachers. With quiet, hazel eyes and a sweet but little oafish face. Halfway handsome and gentle in a way that makes you trust somebody instinctively.  He didn’t talk very much back then, a fact I constantly remind him of now that he doesn’t shut up, and even then I had a feeling it was because he was either shy or self conscious about something. Some secret defect he was scared to reveal if he said too many things at once.

We hardly spoke throughout high school so I can’t calendar exactly when I decided that I wanted him. At that age your hormones are so all over the place, it’s impossible to tell, to place it to a single moment. But I do remember it as a slow and steady realization, like a favorite color, or discovering you might like girls too. Watching him play lacrosse during lunch, his long and lanky body rushing and slamming across the field. That year his parents bought him a car, and he spent every single Sunday under the hood of that marooned and beat up Subaru; his face and tank top soaked with a thin layer of oil and sweat. And on Thursdays after art class, him pretending to read the bulletin board outside of choir: his dark, coffee colored hair draped over the his bronze eyes. I remember this exciting envy when I would watch, when his girlfriend would come out of class and brush it aside. 

Lots of these moments made me stare, made me sink stupidly into the thought of him, so the exact one that took hold of me I couldn’t say. But I do know the Summer I turned seventeen was when I decided to seduce him.

It was a blind and thoughtless resolution, and honestly, a part of me didn’t believe I would actually go through with it. Confidence was part of the issue. I wasn’t exactly self-conscious, but I wasn’t arrogant enough to consider myself beautiful or seductive by any means, either. My chin and ears were very pointy, giving me slightly elfish features, which is why I’ve always had bangs and let my hair drown past my shoulders. My mothers side and two years of track left me small, what some might call petite but is really more like a little boys body. Unlike some of the other girls I was nothing to turn heads or stop traffic, but even then, I liked my frame and freckles. I had a quiet confidence in myself, and whether Evan would or not, I would like them and me just the same.

My entire tactic was non-existent. It was a thought that brewed in the back of my mind, that I thought about on the bus ride to school or during my runs. It was Saturday when it happened, I remember, one of the hottest days of the Summer, and I left early for my usual morning jog. I love running; the freedom of it, the feeling of my feet thumping against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. Reality fades further and further the more I push myself against the strain of my lungs, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, until everything becomes obsolete and all I can see or have the capacity to think about is the road ahead of me. And all I can feel, all I care about, is the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for. The blood pulsing in my veins so loud I can hear it. And then I stop and the world comes crashing back in a winded rush, as I struggle to catch my breath and remember my personality.

When I finished that morning, a thought struck me and I decided to go see Evan. I swung around my house, grabbed a pie mom had left on the kitchen counter and made my way to his garage. He was hunched over the hood like so many times before, his clueless gaze thoughtfully considering something. I cleared my throat to get his attention.

“Hey,” I said. Still winded, and my heart struggling against something else. He looked up with a calm surprise that grew as I approached him. “Mom asked me to drop this off,” I lied, gently raising the pie.

“Oh, yea. Thanks,” He said, wiping his hands with a blue and oily rag.

To his credit, he maintained eye contact for much longer than I expected him to, except it was obvious his neck was locked in a brace to keep his gaze on mine. Still a part of me had doubt, thought maybe I was making a mistake.

“Real hot one today, huh?” He added, coming closer. 

“Yeah,” I said. “Keeping cool in here?”

My hair was in a ponytail and I could feel beads of sweat brimming down my temple, sides, stomach. I could feel my chest heaving against the stuffy Summer air as I was pacing the garage. I couldn’t keep still, so I decided to focus on the feeling of my feet wading against the pavement and my heart thrusting against my rib cage. The heat crept into my lungs and I could feel a strain, my muscles tensing, my chest tightening, my body anxious and waiting for something. Deep breaths of the warm and desperate air I’m gasping for, the blood pulsing in my veins so loud I could hear it.

“Not like you,” He said, and I laughed, or at least, pretended to.

But for a moment I saw his hazel eyes flick down, then up. 

And I knew. 

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.

Cash Bar Only (aka Only Dickheads Tip On Their Debit Card)

A part of me likes to socialize for the sole purpose of disliking it. Self prophecy or flagellation, I don’t know. You be the judge, boo.

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  just window shopping.

Some 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 said, 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 had stashed in my bra because mama taught me well (and had dead beat boyfriends. Hi dad!)

I like my loneliness throughout the year but then Summer starts turning the bend and the heat creeps inside your bones. Then all those days I spend bird watching in Central Park, or drinking enough wine to want to practice yoga poses at home, they start feeling less and less fulfilling. Those wide, dead eyed Macy’s-summer-Sale ads glaring from the side of buses and subway platforms. Half naked and generic couple or family staring at you, actors probably, complete strangers that still manage to give you the impression like you’re missing out on something.

“This place 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 September comes around. But who doesn’t like a nice looking stud or vixen to grab you by the waist, pull you close and treat you like something thats only good for being used for a night? 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 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 start taking those eggplant emoji’s less seriously. 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 on the fringes of a good time. A place where words or thoughts or how stupid he looks in that ascot are no longer necessary.

“You’ve gotten better.” I said, and he has. It’s the most honest thing I’d said to him his entire life.

“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.

I guess he never worked in retail