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.

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Bonafide Blue Ribbon (aka Nice Guys Finish Last, and We Generally Warn You Before We Do) Part II

Feelings are cute but can turn monstrous, and should never be fed after midnight like Mogwais. None the less, or more the lesser, I waited for her in Connolly’s, wetting my desires with a whiskey neat and giving names to the little gremlins taking shape around my head and heart.

My mother always said an idle mind was Lucifer’s playground, and I never tempt the devil unless I’m ready to dance. Especially not after 12:00AM, the darkest hour, where you’re either climbing to the top of the world or on the verge of being crushed by it. Luckily my mind was made up and I had on my most comfortable shoes.

Enter Felice, stage left, who walked into the bar looking like the kind of girl they write songs about. Gorgeous enough to know it, so I made it a point to not make that obvious.

“Haven’t I seen you wear that shirt before?”

“Where do you get it?” She asked. 

“My shirt? You know I only shop at Hot Topic.”

“No, this confidence you definitely don’t deserve.”

The air smelled like starched shirts and too much perfume. My heart strung on the soft tendons of her knuckles that left me wondering where the arch of her neck leads. A feminine physique, the scent of raspberries; wide hips narrowing. What a waist for time.

Sex, such a a cheap trick and emotional shortcut; like skipping to the best part of your favorite song when you’re drunk. A quick high without the progress or buildup, that burns out as fast as it lights up and taste only as good as the oral is. But it’d been a while and I needed to feel a little needed, even if it were from somebody I didn’t give much of a damn about. But first there was the social foreplay, and some of the little monsters in me liked to chew the fat long enough to leave the bone dry. 

“The smartest diseases,” I said. “Are the kinds that can disguise themselves to look like it’s a part of you. Fool the body into thinking it’s just another blood cell. That’s the way it is with people, too: fake it til you take over their immune system.”

“You just compared yourself to cancer,” She said.

So beautifully cruel. She enriches me as a lover but ruins the romantic, makes lighter all those tragedies I rattle at with a beer can. Kissed by fire and freckled in 80’s rock ballads; she was terrible at the song of vice and liars. Honest to a fault with fireworks in her eyes- Felice, you had to smile to say her name. Hair halfway down her back and a dip between her shoulder blades. Thin fingernails and long, smooth knuckles that looked like almonds hiding under a milky bar of chocolate. Smokers lips and eyebrows that were always either feigning surprise or frowning.

“But I’m a Taurus.” I said. And she tried very admirably not to laugh.

We had met from a mutual acquaintance at a rooftop bar over near the west end last Summer. We remained light friends, occasional Facebook comment and a meme for posterity sake. An acquaintance that never quite made it as a friend, but if she had ever cut ties and left, I would be a husk. Because a cage without a bird is an empty thing.

“Tell me something.” I said.

“Like what?”

“Anything, as long as it’s not about your how much you hate your boss.”

Her eyes rolled, so drastically she nearly back-flipped, then fell restlessly on the crowd. Searching between the bodies, as if somewhere in the sea of strangers she could have found what she meant to say. What are you wondering at, you beautiful wonder. But that’s just the way she was- with a heaven in her smile and a frown in her eyes, the kind of storm in her thighs that consumed you by degrees.

“I don’t want to end up alone,” She said, a bit too honestly.

Company comes with conditioning, a terrible case of cotton mouth and Pavlov’s jaw, that creaks and rust and is afraid at any attempt at something honest. I couldn’t stand it, the pseudo sociable. Talking about your job and weather is conventional and safe, but feels more like a constraint than a conversational mattress. I could only get along with people that people call unhinged – the kind that are un-apologetically themselves and never learn to stop sniffing markers. Alcoholics, drug abusers, sex and love addicts anonymous. I fell into them the way people fall into bad habits and addictions.

“You just haven’t met the right person yet.” I parroted, not thinking, just responding in the way some blood cells  and chemical reactions are supposed to.

“But I hate that idea. Of fucking…I don’t know, presupposing. Like meeting someone is so inevitable. If you can find happiness in different things, in like, songs, or traveling, or a really good book, why should mine have to come from some other person?”

We sat there, loud, but empty.  Like glass bottles clinking. Humanity is a strange enigma, toasting to his or her own empty fantasia- specific instances of precise happiness undefinable by sobriety. An escape endlessly clouded by the myriad of errors that got you there. Forgotten, wasted, and inexplicable. Taken for granted like keys you swore you lost but show up at your bedside.

“They write songs about people who fall in love the way you do.” I said coming from a haze, shooing the last few gremlins. “But that’s all they are. They’re just songs.”

My lies are noble. I didn’t think that was necessarily true, but perhaps what she needed to hear. Misleading a horse to water is a treason I’m likely to commit, even if those were never my intentions. Because then again, what consequences ever are?

She looked back to the crowd a little angrily, ran her knuckles on the counter in a way that made me hungry, and smiled like she had just said her own name. Her pupils stuttered and whatever emotion that almost revealed itself winced back to the chasm from where it came.

“You’re a good guy,” She said.

“I’m no hero.”

“No,” She replied with a smile. “Heroes don’t shop at Hot Topic.”

How Sweet The Sound That Saved A Wretch Like Me

veins of my city clotted, dark creases,
ivory white lines. hollowed brightness,
tarnished yellow; a broken sun or
blotted lampost, or like milk, that shade
when it takes to coffee.

faded in translucent clothes,
easily read outfits and
two bit disguises: modern misery
is dolled classic narcissism. obvious –
an inability to say no or swipe left,

cheap thrills with a cover charge.
vapor smoke,overpriced beer,
metro-card limousines and
moonlight passes as if hardly there.
easing through glass like bodies, frail,
sharp, suited, and false as nails.

a stranger’s eyes cast shadows
on a fog in 59th Street- two homeless
men smoke stale cigarettes off the ground.
smiles,just ignore the hope and wile.
a house of mercy built on cardboard.

When You Reach The Last Stop, Show The Grim Reaper You Have A Transfer Card (aka Subway Soliloquy)

STAND-CLEAR-OF-THE-CLOSING-DOORS-PLEASE.

Crowded, packed and stuffed with no AC.
Doors close, open, close, open, close, open, cl-
open. Somebody sucks teeth and the whole train sighs.
An afternoon turning evening ride home, ten stops away
from Wednesday rituals and the nonsense we do to get
over the hump of a work-week. Walking starts looking
like an option from all these delays. And if this
old ladies bag pushes me ONE MORE TIME I swear I’ll-

LADIES-AND-GENTLEMAN
PLEASE-GIVE-UP-YOUR-SEAT
FOR-THE-PREGNANT
AND
THE-ELDERLY
IT’S-STANDING-UP-FOR-WHATS-RIGHT
AND-COURTESY
IS-CONTAGIOUS.

Sweating, hot and suffocating in 9 to 5 company.
Undone ties and tired eyes fanning magazines,
smearing makeup, grunting offhand conversations,
complacent and wailing for home. Singing to the rhythm
of train tracks and middle class disappointment.
ka-kun ka-kun…ka-kun…ka-kun…ka-
A Game of Thrones Ringtone plays and somebody sneezes.

LADIES-AND-GENTLEMAN
FOR-YOUR-SAFETY-PLEASE
DO-NOT-BLOCK-OR-HOLD-THE-CAR-DOORS
WHILE-THE-TRAIN-IS
IN-THE-STATION.

Two men argue over who touched who first,
but it doesn’t matter and devolves to racial slurs.
Fingers, movements, violence vibrating in IF YOU COME
ONE STEP CLOSER
and voices getting louder
and louder and louder and louder and
more uncomfortable the longer neither of them backs down.
Then one says F**K THIS and starts reaching in his bag and

THIS-IS-A-SOUTHBOUND
SIX-TRAIN
THE-NEXT-STOP-IS
SAINT-LAWRENCE
AVENUE.

Crowded, packed and stuffed with no AC.
Doors close, open, close, open, close, open, cl-
open. Red floor, red doors, red rails, red everything.
Red advertisement on prescription acne treatment
on sale with Dr. Zimmerman, blood blushing his smile.
People running. Screams. Yelling. Shoving. I TOLD HIM
HE SHOULDN’T. I TOLD HIM. I TOLD HIM.
Sirens.

STAND-CLEAR-OF-THE-CLOSING-DOORS-PLEASE.

Ms. Behaving Taught Me Better Than Politeness Ever Could

It’s cold, so women start to put the sandals away and whip out the fur hoodies and finger-less gloves.  Your #MCM’s caesar haircut fades into a fitted cap, cuffing season hashtags, two-button trench-coats, and fuck-it-every-other-day-I’ll-shave Winter stub. Five o clock shadows look more natural at six pm when the sun quits early and the city bundles into itself into November. Every bar and cafe this side of Houston shuts the beach umbrellas and tabled awnings, brings out a meme sign that’s not exactly funny, but clever enough with a Rick and Morty reference to buddy you in under the promise of cheap shots and warm company.
 
“I can’t stand hamsters,”
“But why did she think denim was okay,”
“What’re you on your period,”
“He was cross eyed but very cute”

This city speaks to me, offhand reveries echoing in the turnstiles. Ever-day glories I overhear gladly between ocean-scening ads lining up the train billboards on my way to anywhere but home. Spotify on my headphones and verbal traffic on the Canarsie bound L-line in Union Square, a cozy corner by the doorway I’m sharing with a tinkerbelle not near half my height, some baby carriages cluttering the aisle, and a giant [from the North, probably] leaning his head against the tiny six foot six inch train celing [I measured that shit, maybe] head space.

Its a sight. And an experience you cant appreciate until you’ve lived here long enough to love hating this city.

*DING*

“We are being held momentarily by the trains dispatcher. Please, be patient.” The monotone recording repeats for the eighth time in the last eight minutes. My leg started to cramp, the entire commute let out a collective sigh, and the anxiety of the wait was enough to make even the calmest man something awful.
But New York has its perks, despite itself: so much social overcrowding the most mundane become monumental.

I got off the grid-locked transit for a taxi in Union Square. Yellow cabs are a habit of a time behind us, and besides, who the hell can afford it or even carries cash? So I finessed a few flicks on rectangular glowing screen and waited in a Starbucks for a convenient lift to my evening. One tall blonde and awkward asking for the bathroom password later, I’m faux-pas among strangers in an Uber Pool. A smooth ride considering, A cluttered group of over-priviledges twenty-somethings has gone much worse (just ask the last election.)

So I spent the ride listening to some loser describe getting robbed by a cop that pulled him over for no reason. His son was coughing up a storm with the cold chill of passenger windows blasted open, a (wife?) staring at her phone and getting angry at a runny nose nobody controls. Another bored brunette sits passenger, laughing at herself or at her phone. The kid says goodbye when she exits and the door slam shuts in response. He plays with his Iron Man helmet in quiet, the sedan shuttles off to the next drop point, and somewhere between Broadway and Amsterdam somebody whispers:

“What a cunt…”

And the whole car laughs.
 
It’s warm, despite the gloves.