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!?”

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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.

The Cassandra Complex

You can’t honestly love a dishonest thing, and the loneliest women always find a way to me. With their steel eyes and emptied hands, pockets full of lint and wedding rings. SoCal socio-megalomaniacs; idle, only innit for the lol’s and cheap thrills. Desperate, for attention maybe, often restless and occasionally cold feet. Melancholy misfits and Tinder-ed housewives, specifically of the military variety (Here’s Looking At You, Kid) curious to see beyond the veil and iron curtain of their staled lives of routine.

“Little young for jazz, aren’t you?” Says Marianne.

Everybody’s got an audience, my uncle used to say, and I happen to know mine very intimately. I provide risk with a bit of comfort, I suppose; the safety of A hedged bet when the thought that There-Could -Be-Something-Better-Than-This creeps into your bed sheets and makes a home inside your head. Because nobody puts baby in a corner or ever really bets it all on black, that stuffs for the movies, so the easiest way to steal second base is by keeping a foot on first.

“I won’t card you if you don’t card me,” I replied.

Friday’s are dry, dull, and take forever to get you anywhere like a NY taxi. When the office population is sparse and I can’t bare the sound of another fax or thunk of the copy machine, I like to throw on Spotify to help fill the empty hours in anything work appropriate. Personal playlist are a hard pass and immediate negative; there’s far too many expletives and small tragedies behind those lyrics for me to care about e-mails, when Arctic Monkeys are asking the only two questions I give a damn about. Whatever’s on top of the charts sounds so recycled I can’t tell one song from the other, and is usually popular for the kind of people who still laugh at the word faggot or don’t shut the fuck up about Beyonce.

And I honestly don’t really need that kind of noise in my life. So Jazz stations are the safest bet, not necessarily out of choice, but a process of elimination. Much like Marianne.

“It’s not polite to ask a woman her age,”

“I never said I cared.”

She was pretty. Not hot, beautiful, stunning, breath-taking or amazing. Pretty, like a painting or very well kept apartment. She had a fading glow of gorgeous, the makeup, accent nail and deep-vee blouses stressing just the right amount of collar bone and decolletage to make her desirable. But there was a hunger about her, a poverty of touch, expressive gestures of the mouth, hands, and tongue. Eyes that said yes to questions I hadn’t been asking.

When she talked she had a habit of putting a hand against my arm or chest, remarking casually about receptionist schedules or what Debra said to her last week. Let it rest and linger for just enough time for it to be considered suggestive, although not entirely inappropriate. While I go by on empty head nods, trying hard not to smile in a way that’s too obvious or says Hi-My-Eyes-Are-Up-Here.

“Have you had lunch yet? I’d kill for some eggplant. Doesn’t some eggplant sound so good right now?” She asks. A loaded question as far as emojis were concerned.

“The killing or the eggplant?” I say. And she smiles, not answering.

Honesty is the best policy and I am a liar of the worst degree. But God is good and prone to favoring symmetry, so She evened me with a horrible poker face, so bad the only way I could be any more obvious would be a tail wagging between my legs. Which, in a sense, there actually is.

“How’s Richard?” I ask. A Self sabotage, because I love to ruin things for myself.

Poor Richard, off on a different kind of fishing. I’d heard his legend, the atypical over protective and underwhelming handsome- pale, blue eyed and red tan lines notorious in men of adventure. Likely under the impression that golden ticket of appearance and arm candy doesn’t start to fade after six years of a flat-lined marriage, hadn’t seen the signs in the sand of Marianne building castles elsewhere.

“Around. Visiting his brothers.” She says, her thoughts elsewhere.

I couldn’t blame her. Emotional ransom is a dick move and there’s nothing worst than feeling indebted to someone. Infidelity is a sin big as littering, in my humble opinion, especially if the alternative is a long conversation on what’s wrong that is on its fifth resurgence. Nut up or shut up, I guess, but that’s much easier to say without a mortgage and your entire life nailed down to another person.

“You should call him,” I say, and quite honestly. She scoffs like I’d ask her for ID and takes her hand from my arm, collects herself in a physical retreat.

Un chiodo fuori un chiodo,” She says.

“What?”

“It’s Italian. It means, a nail takes out a nail. Or, you need a nail to forget a nail. Something like that.”

I understood, I think, how much cheaper it is to add another coat of paint than go all in on another lease. How we bury uncomfortable in other things, money, people, sex, memes.

“Sounds like a painful way to solve a problem.” I say.

“I’m going downstairs to close up. Keep your phone on in case I get stuck,” She says, dismissively, turning away from me and the suggestion down the hall.

Leaving me to wonder why do I not lose my voice when the moments are so critical? Why do I see a light at the end of tunnels and look for shadows? I’m terrified of not standing in my truth, of growing younger, because regression is a form of death and I’m proud of the monster I’ve worked so hard to become. Was it desperation? A hunger and poverty of the soul? Unexpressed gestures of the mind, heart, and tongue. Sometimes, above all else, I wish I knew how to just shut the fuck up and enjoy a bad thing well.

A while passes and my phone screen lights up, with a message from Marianne.

“Deb leave yet”

The worse weight a man can carry is a conscience, and a best practice among sex and love addicts anonymous is to pack light.

“Negative.”

Because the top of one mountain is the bottom of the next, especially when it comes to orgasms.

“Come to elevator rm when she does”

It’s heaven on the way down but one hell of a climb up. Which may make me a hypocrite, but only on a technicality.

“Are you trapped again?”

Like atheist who moan about God during sex.

“No. Bring 🍆”

Un chiodo fuori un chiodo.

Some Goodbyes Don’t Require It (aka There’s Three Sides To A Story For Every Beast With Two Backs)

“Everyone says you two are fucking,” Lindsey tells me, flat as an iron, or her chest. Whichever is less cliché and more offensive.

We’d stayed friends despite myself, or rather, she stayed on talking terms with me no matter how much I didn’t deserve it.

I asked who started spreading, focusing on the stack of files in front of me, but she wouldn’t say. Gossip is for gluttons with a reserved taste: they only feed if they are fed, and I had nothing to barter with. Besides, we’d had a past, shared scotch cobblers and orgasms between shrills and bolognese. It’s much harder than you would expect to find a middle ground when the candle of a relationship burns out on both ends. Easier to abandon ship, call her crazy and him an asshole, keep that kind memory of how much they meant buried somewhere so deep you can pretend to forget about it. Right next to your 6th grade friends phone number, or the thing you said to your father.

“People say a lot of things,” I said, because I didn’t care about Lindsey any more.

But I cared for Lindsey, if that makes any sense.

And if I could omit a line of history so that her rage could remain in hypotheticals, she’d sleep easier while still hating me the same for it.

“Well are you.” She said, not asking.

“Am I what?” I asked, not saying.

“Fucking her.” She demanded.

Right and wrong, the difference between righteous and a travesty. I used to know the difference. I was a good man once, but a long time ago I learned a good man is good for nothing.

“No, right now I’m filing,” I said.

So she smacked me.

My Baby Takes The Morning Train, When Uber Pool Is Too Expensive (aka I’d Quit Tomorrow If Sheena Asked Me To Stay)

It was early morning, around six thirty AM I think. That un-Godly hour when men in construction work boots march soul-less towards the MTA, and a handful of office workers with long commutes start their day before the sun will. When transit is slow and sluggish, quiet besides the scuffle of winter coats and urban foliage stirring awake. Early birds and no worms.

I slouched off of the 39 Bus hungover as the moon on the horizon, dragging my feet towards Nine To Five with my body in tow. Hungry, because I’d ate too late last night. Angry at another schedule I couldn’t skip, because rent’s a bitch and cheesesteaks don’t grow on trees. Calling out was out of the question, and I didn’t have any sick days left anyway. Between the bus fares, nephews, and bottles of rum lining my recycling bin, I needed the money. But not desperately. Enough to get me out of bed when I’d rather be somewhere else.

Not a unique feeling, I noticed, as I watched a couple stop on the corner. He was about my height, not much more handsome with a handful of grays around his cobble-colored hair. She was all legs, nick-knacks dangling from her wrists, ears, neck, jacket, boots, lips; everywhere. Hands just barely held, calm and comfortable as they lazily rushed towards their obligations as the rest of us. They hit the corner and slowed, spoke some four to five words or syllables I tried my hardest to listen in on (all I could make out was ‘Don’t—this weekend—‘) and kissed each other on the cheek goodbye.

She clicked on toward the subway, he stood and stared at her go for a while. I stood there watching while he was wrestling with something. An idea maybe, words or feelings he should have shown or let shed. Or maybe he was throwing in the towel on the rat race, would have rather run down the block and take her by the hand back down where they came from. Board up the windows and lock the door at home, let the rent and bills pile up, spend all day listening to quiet comfort of her soft breathing on his chest, and the nick-knacks dangling off the dressers and coffee tables.

Then a car honked, he looked at his cell, and marched towards the 9 bus to work instead. He needed the money too, I guess, or couldn’t manage to break the habit. I looked at the 9 bus, marched towards the liquor store I knew would be open in an hour, and called The Boss on my cell.

Because I couldn’t either.

The Only Difference Between The Top And The Bottom Is The View (aka Bukowski Had It Right)

Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Seen men laugh the hell of winter in warehouse factories, smoke circles huddled to keep warm in the frost of poverty and nicotine snow. Stale gas station bread and piss poor coffee for piss poor patrons in piss poor jobs stuck in dead end wages. Together, strangely, in more than a word. Exhaustion does strange things to quiet the soul and make a family out of shared misery. Leonard made coffee cakes on Fridays. We ciphered cigarette breaks while Cassandra played lookout for the forman. Hank didn’t say much.

Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Broke bread and summer nights with Yale graduates, yuppies who migrated to Washington Heights when even they were too broke for SoHo. Thirsty Thursdays and 5K Marches for whatever was popular at the moment. Empty nights full of cocktails on rooftops that overlook Manhattan and sympathy. Overseas relief efforts in LoFi filters, hashtagged humanitarianism at its worse. Intellectuals that are only in it for themselves.

Oh, I have risen high and been driven low. Met the greatest and worst minds of our generation, found little difference in both. The vagabond desperate to make his ends meet, and the conglomerate tied in a knot of vanity and himself. Where is the lesson? What is there to learn from these peaks of top and bottom? Nothing.

Life is a but a poor struggle, or a rich one.

 

I Give ‘Calling-In-Sick’ A Whole Other Meaning (aka If You Don’t Like What You Do, That’s Why They Pay You For It)

To: Margaret.Steeler@theacademyschool.gov
Cc: HR; Jack Stiller;
Bcc: YourMom; WhyHaventIQuitThisJob
Subject: RE: Security Staffing Issues Update

Good morning Margaret.

As per our discussion, I’ve reached out to the upper management of Secure Staffing Inc. I had a lengthy discussion with their senior manager Greg Philmoore, who voiced some concerns regarding our decision to relocate one security guard from our secondary school location. He divulged feelings that this was done out of spite, and referenced what I can only describe as a ‘vague friction’ between The Academy School and Secure Staffing Inc.

In addition, he said this was very much a bitch move, which went directly against an earlier conversation I was not a part of. In fact, I wasn’t a part of any of the conversations until now, as I stumble to pick up the pieces to a mess you’ve left behind to attend your daughters recital concert. While I smoked a cigarette and listened to Greg’s incessant whining our employee-client relation, a part of me kept wondering how the hell this was my problem. There was a circle tar of gum pasted onto the sidewalk, and for a moment I felt a terrible connection between myself and that black blotch on the floor. You see, that glued and trampled dot was once something pristine- sitting neatly in a wrapper, complete and minding it’s business on some shelf or deli counter in upper west side Manhattan. Perfectly made. Whole. Un-bothered by the world and all it’s problems. Just as I was, before this job.  I used to go to the gym on Wednesdays and call my friends to see how they were doing. Occasionally I would even have sex. And now I’m  melded into this 9 to 9 job, endlessly answering e-mails that keep popping up like weeds or your mistakes. Marooned in Microsoft Outlook, stranded in half assed meetings about meetings that amount to nothing. Sealed in necessity and welded to the sun.

I explained to Greg this was not the case, and that this decision was in no way done to go around his authority, but rather, was in collusion with our ideals of “School First.” Management came together to assess how we can best support our vision, and after careful deliberation, this was decided to be the best alternative.

Which is some cult shit, really. Why would I ever possibly put you strangers above myself? I’ve got a family, friends and growing nephews that need me, and I need them, much more than this false-family-narrative you’re trying to spin. Why does a job even have to be more than a paycheck? When did being good at a job not become enough? What kind of lunatic doesn’t work for his pay, but because he wants to be there? We aren’t artist, we’re talking deskjobs and dealing with other peoples gross children. It’s a brand of psychological slavery I can pretend to go along with, but laugh tragically over as I’m getting plastered in my condo Monday through Thursday. The stupid, arrogant naivety of it all. Trying to force a man to forsake himself  for the sake of establishing a “job culture.” You’re tools, all of you, trying to make a wrench out of me. But I’ve been sharpening my resume along with every fake smile.

In conclusion, I believe a best practice would be to be more honest as to why we’re here; understand that what we’re asking for is unreasonable. The Academy School and Secure Staffing are not places we should aspire to, just names and LLC’s trying to make us think we owe them something.  We should do our best to be better people, and a better person doesn’t succumb to cultural brainwashing. He or she should work hard because that’s what they’re paid to, and working hard doesn’t require the buy-in of pretending their job is a family. It only needs a decent pay, sincerity, and you handling your own damn problems so that I don’t have to.

Also, your daughters shit at the flute.

Always,

Noel Edwards
District Manager
The Academy Schools
8042 Netherland Boulevard
New York, NY 10033

PS – I quit.