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.