Cassie Episode VI (Stop Googling Your Personality)

“If you embarrass me I’ll just pretend like I don’t know you,” Cassie said, idling red eyes between me and a cigarette.

Dressed in all black like a bad omen, tastefully undressed in shoulders, arms, knees, and other non erogenous zones. Non-conformist and un-plus with a tattoo of Anubis coloring her forearm, eye-liner running at just the right angle to look more punk than it was depressing. I loved to watch her leave as much as I loved to follow, admiring the fun and dire looks she threw back at me as I took a mental inventory.

Another sixty bucks might mean a workweek full of tuna fish and sardines until the next direct deposit saved me. Rents a bitch but more than anything those bar tabs will kill ya. Bottom shelf shots are every New York booze hounds salvation, but even those start adding up when you’ve been at it long after twelve. I should have gone home a while ago, on moral grounds and debit card balance considerations, but I find it so hard to act your wage when I’m in the face of good company.

“I mean it.”

Cassie stood neutral but on the sidelines of chaos, and made it so easy to forget that I should give a fuck about tomorrow. Like that manic pixie girl they make all those movies about, but way more toxic. On the train ride there she stared at a couple passionately trying to swallow each others tongues. And when the six foot big spoon asked if there was a problem, she laughed and casually asked if there was enough room for us to join the show. They sucked their teeth and left at the next station, long testosterone glares I half heartedly reciprocated. And when I asked Cassie if she had such a problem with PDA to be so embarrassing, she shrugged and told me Not-At-All. I-Just-Thought-That-Would-Be-Funny.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I said, shuffling my internal playlist of wisecrack and dumbass to best match what I thought would be her rhythm. “But one quick question: how do your friends feel about Syria?”

I thought Cassie was burning inside as bright as I was, full of that quiet crazy staring at strangers and waiting to socially erupt. I thought she was as fed up as I was with faux pas pleasantries and nominal living, ready to yell at pigeons in the park and be an island of revolution. Choosing yourself over this paper thin etiquette and simulated version of honesty. True above all else, and refusing to let our madness be private.

“I’m serious,” She said, stopping with a hand firmly pressing into my chest. “Do not embarrass me,” she repeated, red eyes idling between me and the half finished cigarette nearly burning the wool of my jacket.

Thin and bright red letters dimmed against the darkness like an alarm clock ahead of us, neon shadows casting the words ‘The O D E O N’ looming on a marquee. Caught up on the wrong side of reality, the feint fragrance of shay butter and too much hairspray. The click of our shoes against the sidewalk filled the aching creaks of our empty headspace, but now there was only an odd and busy silence as New York revolved around our feet. She was so serious and I didn’t know what to say.

I had half a mind to bring up the problematic train ride that got us there, but her cute face and my aversion to conflict got the better of me. I trust no ones judgement, and my own much less. But when you’re morally bankrupt and already in enough debt to be thrifty on the last sixty dollars you have left in your bank account, it’s easy to overlook hypocrisy for a few free drinks with a pretty girl.

“I’ll be good,” I said. She nodded, and we made our way.

Into Odeon and the rest of the night with her friends, I wondered what would be the cost of that little or small a lie.

My 2AM Text Aren’t A Bootycall, This is a Løvset Maneuver

You never saw yourself as the kind of person to be in this type of place at this kind of hour. But here you are, talking to a woman with Bright Red Lipstick in a dive bar you may or may not have considered something of a halfway house just one or two weeks prior. Or was it one or two years? You check your watch for an answer but Time has become pretentious and over-bearing: hands pointing with a fatherly reproach to 3AM. You’re tired and sleep deprived, knowing better than to waste those precious few hours of rest and rejuvenation on midweek slumming and Thirsty Thursday half priced top shelf liquors. But you’re horny.

Necessity is the nagging mother of invention which compels you forward, the steady rhythm of Bon Jovi over a neon jukebox and double-digit Whiskey Sours has abandoned you on the outskirts of that thin line between reasonable and mindless intemperance. That fleeting toxic sweetness is grinding to a slow halt. You can feel your charming buzz evaporating through your every pore and faked half-smile, and as these chemicals grow sober they turn to poison. The room begins to have an odor you can’t quite categorize but have mentally filed as the direct midpoint between ‘wet’ and ‘dog’. Everyone is suddenly missing teeth, the bartender has a lazy eye and bullet scars, the couple three seats down won’t stop arguing over their bill. 

But tonight you are the epitome of self-control, managing to cloud this distaste and disinterest with the local vagrants long enough to find Bright Red Lipstick: a dull nickel among the slime, shining like sterling silver in a cupboard. She’s talking about her coworkers assumed and scandalous affair with her boss, but you haven’t been paying much attention. You’ve been diving back and forth between minimal interest and complete disregard, more focused on the feel of the bar counters damp wood against your leaning hand. It reminds you of the real wood, ant bites and the soggy feel of  tree bark after it rains. Rain – something that exist only outside of this dim lighting with seven dollar mojitos and popular soundtracks on a static speaker. 

You stop yourself.

Any and all thoughts of another world or perspective is too much for you to handle in this state. The long drought has a habit of taking you somewhere far, somewhere far and dark, somewhere you can’t afford to take yourself in the company of others. With a deep breath you try to catch up with Bright Reds narrative but the music blaring in the background and the solution dissolving in your blood stream makes it hard to keep up. Her long and uneventful story has become mute – your own personal silent film; capricious lips, hand gestures and head nods. A small pause in her movement cuts to words flashing on a blank screen: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Black backdrop, white lettering. It reminds you of Shakespeare, nights better spent tanning in the warm blue light of television screens and kisses creased in grins. Skipping work on Monday mornings to lay in bed and count the freckles on her shoulder, ordering takeout and answering the door wearing her bra. Shrimp lo mein and bed-sheets.     

“You know what I mean?” Bright Red’s waiting eyes snap you back to the moment, and you vague a response as best you can but feel it lacks conviction. Inevitably you’ve began to feel like a foreign entity in the bar. A carefully disguised virus soon to be discovered among the giant red and white blood cells marinating in the plasma that is youthful bliss. Organs devised solely for pleasure, its source of energy the lust for the next big moment, every agent acting on behalf of a selfish nucleus balanced carefully on a keen apathy for the profound. You feel disgusted: with people and with yourself.

You watch as Bright Red knocked back a shot and notice she is beautiful, in a ‘we’re both here so why not’ sort of way. She tells you she’s considering a change of career as you nod, considering her body. There is a feint aroma in her brunette hair and neat sweat across her temple: the smell of strawberries and a thinly veiled low self esteem and suppressed inner monologues. The scent is unmistakable. Your laundry reeks of it.     

It was the strangest thing. When I stepped outside all I smelled was smoke but I couldn’t tell if there was something burning nearby or if I was.

“It’s bad for you,” she’d say, pointing to the rolled tabacco between my lips, and I didn’t feel like explaining how that was the best part.

Instead I talked about cancer, how it’s something I think of often. Cancer, but not a fear of it or death or anything so pointless, just my contemplation on whether I would quit or not because of it. And I don’t think I would. I mean, you caught it already. Tough break, right? Fuck it. Smoke more. No use crying over spilled tumors.

“You’re always so negative,” she’d say, and a sick twinkle in her eye told how she secretly liked that fact a little too much.

And I explained how my optimism took longer to die than my youth, that as a teenager I spent 40 Years Underground. But she didn’t get the reference, so I told her that there’s a thin line between cynicism and indifference: that not all emotions necessarily have emotion. Apathy being one of the greatest examples, sex being another, and sometimes even love. But that last part I couldn’t find a way to phrase, so instead I just fucked her and left the motel before she would wake up.

So I guess she’ll just have to read between the lines.

You’re walking down the quiet bustling city street now as you feel Bright Red slink her arm around yours. You don’t really notice, though. You’re too focused on the  melody of engines stuck in traffic and _________________. It was a short walk, a block or two at most. You feel a soft pull from Bright Red as you nearly walk past her apartment. She’s fumbling for her keys, apologizing in advance for the mess in her living room. You’re not sure how you got here or where this night even began. You feel a twist in your gut, a far echo screaming ‘run,’ telling you to get away from here as fast as you can.

Bright Red is smiling at you nervously, moving a few strands of her auburn hair from her nickel face. She tells you she doesn’t usually do this type of thing with guys she’s just met. She says she thinks you’re some type of player, so quiet and mysterious.

“Have you ever even been in love?”

You don’t respond, smiling instead as you take her by the hand, brisk steps into the abyss as the door closes behind you.

Cassie, Episode V (The Hangover Strikes Back)

We roamed the streets, howling at the moon with our eyes wet in hunger. Biting at each others heels in soft compliments disguised as insults, because neither of us ever truly outgrew the playground.

“Nice buzzcut, asshole.” Cassie snarled.

“I like your Ugg boots, where’d you get them? High school?” I hissed.

We were free of responsibility and chose to use that time unwisely. To be wild, untamable and young(ish)- daring strangers to approach us by baring our teeth in what they mistook as smiles and seeming friendly. Barking at cars and traffic that honked at us on lanes that said, B-U-S O-N-L-Y painted white in symbols we could no longer understand. A man tried to explain:

“Get on the sidewalk assholes! That’s the bus lane!”

“Says-Fucking-Who!” We howled back.

Scampering down West 4th Street with tails high as our moods, taking turns on a brown paper bag that was full of what makes the moon shine and absolutely nobodies business (especially if you were a cop.) A toxic duo of brash and lonely only looking for a home or good time; rabid and shameless, one with ourselves and the anti-thesis of decency.

Cassie and I two sloshed peas in a pod. We didn’t think we were greater than people, but we were better than them for knowing that. Than thinking we were anything more than animals packed into a steel cage we call a city. As if there were any more reasonable way to live than with this wild abandon of decorum, to stop the facade of a cowards living we dress up as social etiquette. No leash, mortgage, bar or cute stranger could tie us down for long. We were free and beautiful, recruiting strays and mutts in downtown Manhattan for The Army of the Dog.

“Can we leave?” I asked Cassie when I caught her in a smoke break. “I can’t stand this yuppie bullshit they keep playing.”

“Hey, it’s your breakdown. Only right you get to choose the soundtrack ” She yelped, and we pawed our way up Macdougal.

It’s what I liked most about her that night and ever since. With Cassie I’d wouldn’t need a good reason for anything or have to think so hard. She never asked for a cause or explanation, and there was a certain comfort in that. A relief of not having to validate more than the surface. 

“I know a place,” She said. “You’ll like it. I know the owner, we can stay late.”

“Sounds suspect. If you’re going to harvest my organs can I at least call my mom first?”

“I already did. don’t worry. She said it was fine and gave me permission.”

A smile spread across my face, completely involuntarily. Because in under an hour Cassie had somehow cracked the code to my affections. I was beginning to like her more than an off-chance encounter, and already I could feel my brain making memories where I didn’t need it to. Mockery is the sincerest form of flattery, in my dark and immodest opinion, and is the default language of love for anyone suffering from the fatigue of compassion. Kindness in the world is necessary, of course, but usually forced. A due process that can feigned, deceptive or hollow. To be mean in a nice way requires a cold but tender honesty, a step too far or close and the intentions become too obvious.

Somehow Cassie threaded that line quite perfectly and turn me softer towards her. I would rather open my heart to whoever called my dick small over some sweetheart asking how my weekend was any day.

“That makes me want to take you out some time,” I said laughing, and a little bit too sincere.

“Somewhere nice?” She asked, smiling a wine soaked and bloody tooth grin.

“Like a Kennedy,” I shot back. She punched my arm, and we pattered down to the stairs to the 1 train.

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.