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.

Two Minutes To Wakefield

It was cold that night – not that it made any difference to you back then. With your first step out of the smothering embrace of a stuffy building, the cold wintry air was a stifling but liberating pang against your lungs. There was something indefinably invigorating about leaving the warm pleasantry of home into the unforgivably bitter night at so late an hour. The tender, luminous bulbs from indoors seemed to shine brighter as you took your first steps into depravity. A soothing glow calling out your name with a flickering beckon begging for you to return. But you turned your back on these cries, stepping nimbly into the enveloping darkness while ignoring its silhouetted plea. Waltzing into the familiar embrace of a dark city, the last trace of light recoiled from your jacket and the transformation was complete.

It was calm that night. At this hour, even in a city so restless as yours, everyone was either asleep or on the verge of it. But not you. You took a deep breath, soaking your mind in the wet moonlight, reveling in the chilly stings of the winds embrace, and watching your soft breath take shape in the form of a thin vaporing smoke. You couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else. There was something almost exotic about this time of the evening – the silence deafening. Only occasionally could you hear the distant rhythmic melody of urban traffic joined by the thin blue layer glow of a television screen echoing from a first floor apartment window. As you walked, you enjoyed the rustling sound of your coat and the feint but persistent click clock click your shoes made against the hard concrete with each passing step. Not a soul to be seen for miles. The night was a voiceless orchestra.

Walking further, you crept toward the distinctive but familiar black car with the ominously tinted windows. The world seemed to echo off of the small but elegant vehicle. There you saw the reflection of surrounding cars, the distant flick of a lamppost, a nearby cat scurrying across, the past, the future, the present, and most importantly yourself. This was no regular car, too unworldly to ever possibly be of this universe, but neither was it part of the ongoing symphony. As you neared the apparatus the passenger side window slowly lowered, carting with it a cheerful and familiar tone. He said something, but you didn’t hear what as you slid comfortably into the sleek leather seat. The inside of the UFO was even more brilliant than the exterior. Glancing through the window you felt completely separated from the outside world; the hue of the tints increasing this effect greatly. Though only an inch away, the orchestra now seemed unreachably distant through the thick dark coating enveloping anything that nestled in its den.

”…I didn’t say you could get in.”

You laughed, briefly, and flashed an unimpressed smile.

“Will you shut up and drive? We’re going to be late.”

He laughed too, as were your way of things. There was never a need for hello’s or how-have-you-been’s. Changing gears as you slipped on your seat belt, the engines soft rumble exciting your heart as the spacecraft came to life, bound for distant unimaginable lands. The night was young, adventure was just one mistake away, and you had an entire list to finish before the sun rose and made you human.