The Social Vampire Diaries: Dominican Edition, Part 2

An hour later, the owner of the house arrives from a day of golfing, tan and sweaty and chortling anecdotes under a baseball cap.  Manservant has already provided us with white plates filled with various sliced meats and carved away cheeses.  Salami, swiss, beef and pork, everything room temperature and sweating in the excessive heat.

“Do you want anything to drink?”

This is the beginning of a very long weekend being waited on constantly.  We will not be allowed to provide for ourselves the rest of the trip.  In addition to manservant, there is a cook and a housekeeper.  After two days of feeling like a handicapped baby, I walk into the kitchen to get something for myself, waving my hands like white flags to the chef in an apology for invading his domain.

“Pear?” I ask, holding the fruit with the intention of wrapping it up in a napkin and taking it outside to eat with, you know, my teeth.

“We do it for you,” he says.

I insist it’s okay.  “I’ll just take it with me.”

“No, no, no.”

I reluctantly hand my pear to manservant, who will deliver it to me thirteen minutes later, cut with the same serrated knife that everything soft here is cut with (the cheeses and fruits all come out looking like DIY crafts projects) and served on a plate with carrot garnish.  I just wanted to eat my fucking fruit.  Just like I want to make my own coffee, scramble my own eggs, toast my own toast.

I hate being waited on.  The process is not only gratingly inefficient, but makes me uncomfortable.  Growing up, we had maybe two different maids for maybe a week apiece.  My mom was always grumbling about how they didn’t know where anything went and porcelain figurines were routinely disemboweled.  As a result, my mess has always been (comfortably), my mess.  My fruit, my fruit.

Manservant serves me wine that begins to warm mid pour.

Juan is from the island, though he currently lives in Puerto Rico, developing large swaths of property in – from what I can immediately gather from his rather, um, abrasive personality – what are likely hostile coups that involve burying the previously owners in their shanty houses before covering them with dirt and erecting something more profitable.

“My grandfather owned half of this fucking island,” he boasts with his trademark Central American slur.  He is nearing forty or turned it recently.  He has the aging face of a petulant baby, big eyebrows stuffed above eyes filled with raucous self-satisfaction and big pillow lips that laugh with his good fortune.

He says something about “being at the top” and American Express black cards.  “There’s nothing higher than this,” he says.  “Where do you go from here?”  He leans back in his char, his arms behind his head, his tennis shoes stretched out in front of him while he surveys his domain.  Actually, while he surveys his parent’s domain.  This is his family’s house.

Juan, apparently, does not care much for his family.  At breakfast one morning, he tells us his family is not “some big, white-teethed family that plays football on the weekends.”  He leans in over his eggs as though we are about to strike a business deal and says something starting with the word “fucking.”  I myself am not one to stray too far from the filthy word trough, but when Juan says “fucking”, it sounds especially depraved, vicious, even.  “Fuckkkeeeng,” he says, his tongue chocking on the “c” and the “k” in the middle.  He laughs like el diablo.

My disdain for Juan grows exponentially over the course of the trip, each hour providing another fifteen reasons not to like him.  He is offensively arrogant.  He talks over everyone and never listens.  You watch him sitting down at dinner, his eyes on the mouth of whoever is speaking, lying in wait until their lips cease moving so that he can move onto what he wants to talk about.

He rails George Clooney.  “Gay,” he spits.  “He has to be gay.  That guy could have anyone in the world and look what he goes after.  Trash.  He’s dating, what?  A waitress right now?”

Eva bristles.  “I know that girl.  She’s very nice.”

“He’s gay.  Anyone with standards that low has to be gay.”

Eva holds onto her wine glass and I watch her breathing become faltered in the way that it does when she becomes impatient or frustrated, a hiccupped seething.

I was not brought here specifically for Juan, though Jack did bring me thinking that, well, maybe something could happen and was worth a shot.  Shot in hell, I think, sitting across from him and feeling my skin burn feverishly in the physical irritation I develop while in his presence.  Funny enough, Juan sort of has a girlfriend: a trashy, unemployed Russian with a young child and a fake nose, who, oddly enough, George Clooney might likely be interested in as well.

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The Social Vampire Diaries: Dominican Edition, Part I

The man next to me is on the bad side of sixty, the whites of his eyes yellowed like butter and his nose ruddy with broken capillaries, both of which are the result of a lifetime of excessive drinking.  He’s working on his third 9 a.m. Bloody Mary while he tells me about the laundromats he runs in the Dominican Republic and what to do when I go through their notoriously loose customs.  He leans in towards me when he speaks, offering me uninvited life advice like a creepy uncle.  I want him to go away.

I am saved by the flight attendant who hands Drunk Uncle a hot cup of coffee to sober him up upon our descent.

“Aren’t you a sweetheart,” he says, smiling through his tobacco-stained teeth.

Aren’t you a drunk.

I hope he doesn’t have children.

We are greeted at the gate by an employee of the airport who asks for the $10 per person “visitor’s fee” that Drunk Uncle warned me about.  “Crooks,” he slurred in between peppered swigs of spiked V8 and booze.  The man then takes our respective IDs and disappears into some office where our passports are stamped by someone who apparently doesn’t care to ask us questions about the purpose of our visit or personally assess the possibility we are drug mules or prostitutes.  Drunk Uncle also told me that the Dominican Republic was essentially just the halfway point for illegal activity, providing a place for coke-laden propeller planes to fill up their tanks en route to Miami and fraudulent South Americans to launder their cash.

The air outside is hot and sticky and decidedly warmer than New York City.  A man in a starched white uniform waves at us, a cell phone pressed against his ear.  This is Jack’s friend’s driver and manservant.  He walks us to a mini-van parked outside and we fly out of Santo Domingo.

From what blurs past my window, the outskirts of the city are grossly impoverished.  Houses are shacks made of cinderblock and corrugated metal.  Business signs are largely the hand-painted block letters of a failed graphic design student.  We pass a grocery store with a sign indicating you are not to bring your guns or your babies inside.  The poverty and the heat here feel like the kindling for terrible things under the right conditions.  The normal rules of the developing world seem prudish by the island’s standards.

Families of four ride on motorcycles with no helmets.  Mothers, fathers, infants, usually some tiny baby wrapped in a dishtowel.  Our driver lazily swerves in between puttering mopeds and barreling semi-trucks.  He brakes late and hard at red lights.  Eva is sitting next to me, grabbing the sides of her seat and muttering “oh my god”s with her characteristic breathlessness.  Jack’s sitting up front, having volunteered for the front seat in an accidental act of altruistic martyrdom.

“Did you just…did you just see that car???”

We have narrowly avoided what is likely our seventh car crash in the span of the last thirty minutes.  This driver – this happy, smiling man with big ears and a charmingly loose grip on the English language – is likely the worst driver in the Dominican Republic.

Jack is holding onto the space between the roof and the door, talking to either us or the driver, though it’s obvious that the driver sort of sees everything and sort of doesn’t care about any of it.  People walk through tidal waves of moving traffic.  Cars creep onto roads at the perfect time for cataclysmic carnage.  Motorcycles ride towards us in the opposite direction.  Half of the time there aren’t even painted lines on the road so as to aid in the flow of traffic by indicating who goes where, which would likely fuck with their incredibly inefficient system called Everyone Goes Everywhere Whenever They Want.

There is a lawlessness here that usually accompanies a haphazard respect for human life.  It’s different than the Auto Bahn chaos of Europe or the crazed fury of Mexico.  This is the kind of place where if you were to die, no one would care.

After an hour and a half of white-knuckles and held-in breath, we arrive at the gates of the “resort”, which is really an extremely large, extremely isolated community far away from the poverty of the Dominican city centers.  We drive through winding, empty streets with natural grass embankments and lush tropical flora, eventually arriving at an ambiguously Mediterranean house with a large glass door and a few security guards in powder blue polo shirts.

The driver takes my bag, wheeling it over the stone and grass walkway and into an over-air conditioned and massive living room filled with kitsch raw silk pillows and glass vases filled with fake flowers.  It’s like the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland and some Orange County nouveau riche mansion had a one-night stand and this place was the resulting bastard child.

We walk through the house and into the backyard, where trees hang over a narrow blue swimming pool and Spanish tiles.  “Your room,” the manservant says, pointing to a guestroom with a giant king-sized bed swimming in white mosquito netting, flanked by bedside tables littered with inspiration self-help books with a vaguely Christian bent.  The towels in the bathroom are all monogrammed, as if to remind the guest where they are staying while they dry their hands after using the toilet.

To be continued…

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The Social Vampire Diaries #2

Our friend’s friend is mad because we’re an hour late.  “It’s not my party and if we reach capacity there’s nothing I can do to get you in,” he tells him.  This is what people say to those not important enough to get into a party on their own merit.  But we all know that there’s no such thing as “at capacity.”  There’s always room at a party; you just have to be the right person.

Sergio – I think his name is Sergio – pushes us towards the entrance.  “Go, go, go, go,” he says from his place on the smoking patio.  Mason and I brush past security guards and a line of people not getting in until we are inside, hidden from the street and an angry man until we are surrounded by all of the right people.

This is the fashion crowd.

It’s already packed inside.  Beautiful people chain smoke cigarettes between four walls covered in tropical wallpaper harkening back the long lost days of Bungalow 8.  Late night coke binges, palm fronds, Heather Graham in roller skates.

Everyone here is beautiful.  Everyone here is awesome.  The problem with this seemingly winning recipe for a raging good time is that each and every person in this place holds onto the core belief that they are the most awesome person in the room.  There is no hidden hierarchy of betterness; everyone here thinks they rule more than the person next to them, whether or not the person next to them is their best friend.  People wander the crowd like satellites, boys crashing into girls without apology, girls waving their lit cigarettes around with blatant disregard for the surfaces of others – skin, hair, expensive clothing.  Burn it all.

When Mason gets scratched in the eye by the claw of some anonymous wench, I can’t say I’m surprised.   She holds a candle up to her cornea.  “Can you see anything?” she asks, her left eye squinted and watering, wanting to know if she is bleeding or otherwise visibly harmed.

No one in here is badly dressed.  Strangely, yes.  Over the top, certainly.  But badly?  Never. Even the girl dressed up like a glorified cobalt blue beetle somehow manages to pull it off.

There is a recipe for why certain bars and clubs do better than others and it depends on the crowd in which it panders to.  The fashion crowd, for instance, requires an open galley in which to strut through, where they can see and be seen in whatever outfit they painstakingly threw together that night.  This is unlike the Hollywood crowd, which requires dark and hidden corners, big cushioned sofas and places where they can hide from prying eyes. Fashion knows no privacy.  If you can’t be seen, what’s the fucking point?

Waitresses do their best to hold onto trays of food that nobody eats: spring rolls, some chicken satay thingies, red boxes of Chinese takeout.  “Care for anything?” they ask, smiling with an admirable believability.  Other women in chic interpretations of ethnic clothing wander the room dropping buckets of champagne on ice at tables surrounded by more chain smokers.  I haven’t inhaled this much second-hand smoke since 1998.

I am introduced to a man/boy who looks like a poor man’s Brad Pitt cast to play Kato Kaelin in an HBO special about OJ Simpson’s life.  “Hi, I’m So And So,” he says, without looking me in the eyes, scanning the room to find someone recognizable to take a photograph with.

Snap.

More flashing cameras.  More lights.

Olivier Zahm arrives with his entourage. He’s wearing the same thing he wears in every single photograph I’ve ever seen of him: a plaid shirt, a leather jacket, jeans, a pair of aviator glasses sitting under a curly mop of hair.  He holds a camera above he and his friends, taking pictures of himself while another person in his entourage takes pictures of the pictures. People circle him like sharks, hoping to get drawn into the fray and immortalized on his online Diary.

Some skinny girl with long brown arms and an orange dress swigs out of an abandoned bottle of champagne, putting a cigarette to her lips with one hand as soon as the big glass bottle comes down with the other.  On the opposite side of the room, a perpetually chic European editor dances on a chair wearing some 90s Versace-esque cutout dress while cameras flash violently from all angles.

I think I’m going blind.

“Theodora Richards is wearing the jumpsuit I just bought,” Mason says.  I scan the crowd trying to find her even though I have no idea what Theodora Richards looks like.  Later, unknowingly, I end up dancing behind the DJ with a wisp of a girl wearing a lace-up version of a Halloween cat costume, so much so that I nearly apologize for sitting on her tail when she’s reaching for her handbag.  This is apparently Theodora.

I wait in line in the bathroom for a stall to open up and listen to two women talking to each other in Russian while one pees and the other – presumably – stands awkwardly above her. They continue to talk to one another in front of the only sink while I stand patiently, waiting to wash my hands.

Back in the main room, girls throw their hair up into messy buns because it’s 100 fucking degrees in this place, the subtropical climate matching the subtropical wallpaper.  Sweaty boys in the front get progressively more drunk and dance on the floor to oldies but goodies and newbies but baddies and I’m staying later than I planned on staying because I ran into an old friend in a suit and tie and why the hell not.

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Field Trip!

Click on image below to check out my piece today on Flipcollective.com 

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I feel as though I’ve been pressure cooked for the last four hundred days, maybe less.  I don’t know.  I have lost accurate sense of time, my brain a badly constructed watch, losing seconds until the seconds become minutes and the minutes become days.  What day is it?  What month?  December.  Jesus Christ.  They’ve already hung Christmas stars down Manhattan Avenue.  Just yesterday it was October fading into November while pumpkins melted on patios, folding into their decomposing flesh, suffocating vanilla-scented candles.  Now we sit on the precipice of a new year…

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The Social Vampire Diaries #1

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There’s a girl with red lipstick that remembers me from an Oscar-viewing party at our mutual friend David’s house.  March.  Fucking March.  I blurt out something about how depressed I was that day because of my ex-boyfriend even though the story doesn’t make sense because she doesn’t have a context for it and we hardly know each other beyond a brief and ancient exchange about who we thought should win Best Actress.

A man who looks like any other man comes up beside her.  They apparently know each other; he’s her boyfriend’s work partner.  He stands back while she and I talk with his arms folded, a hand to his chin, surveying the scene like a general contractor.  He whispers something to her and then looks back at me. 

The girl mentions that he lives in Los Angeles but he says he’s just got a place out there.  “I’m doing the bicoastal thing,” he yells over the terrible music.  She says something about an Alpha Romeo and I try to conjure up an image of what that car looks like in my head because I think that was her point, but I can’t.  He asks me where I live.  I tell him Brooklyn but that I go back and forth between New York and LA because I have family and friends out there, because I work there, too.  I do not need to drive home the point by telling him that I am bicoastal.

And suddenly, without realizing, she’s left the two of us standing next to each other. 

I let him buy me a gin and tonic because he’s a douche bag and I deserve it for having to hang out with him.  Michelle orders a shot of tequila.  He gets one, too.  I can’t decide if he’s drunk or stoned, but he keeps asking me the same questions over and over again, not even remembering that he has asked them before when they come out of his mouth or when I give him the same answer.

Where do you live?

            Brooklyn.

So you live in New York?

            Yes.

What do you do here?

            I model and write.

How do you know Devon?

            I met her through my friend David.

Oh yeah…so, you live in New York?

            YES.

What do you do?

            I model and write.

How did you and Devon meet?

            Through my friend David.

Who’s David?

            A mutual friend.

He keeps standing next to me and looking at me while he shakes his head.  I dance around the table with my gin and tonic sloshing out of my cup because I’m not drinking it quickly enough. 

“You’re intimidating,” he tells me.  I say that’s a matter of perception.  He says that he’s insecure and I tell him he’s full of shit because no one that’s insecure would be secure enough to admit that in public to a total stranger.  I think he says that he has low self-esteem and now he’s really just blowing smoke up my ass.

On three occasions we bang our heads together, trying to listen to one another speak.  After the third time, I can’t tell who’s embarrassed or who’s irritated.  Michael stands back and says, “Hi, I’m Michael.  It’s so nice to meet you.”  He’s trying to start over.  He does this twice.  I haven’t felt this awkward since I went on a blind date with some rich kid with a BMW who kept saying over the course of our Moroccan dinner date “Oh my god.  This is like the worst date ever, right?  I mean, I’m sorry.  I’m like.  Fuck.  This is bad, yeah?”

This man makes me want to gouge my eyes out.

When Michelle tries to save me by walking outside to “smoke cigarettes” he says he has cigarettes and that he’ll come with, but by the time we’ve made it through the crowd and out the doors he’s already forgotten he was going to come out with us and so he smokes a cigarette down the sidewalk by himself.  I don’t even think he sees us, he’s that fucked up. 

When we get back inside he finds me and grabs me by the arm and says, “Where did you go?”  Every time I get out of his line of sight he comes and finds me and asks me the same question.  Whenever I make my way to get away from him he asks me if I’m leaving, my response always being “I’m going to say hi to a friend” or “I’m going to the bathroom,” when it should really be “You’re not my psycho boyfriend, psycho.”

His breath is a steaming cloud of cigarettes, the kind where I just want to get a tongue scraper and peel the tar off of his tongue from front to back.  I knew this breath, had kissed this breath before.  It was a combination of Camel Lights and cocaine, which, as my friend Jared later tells me, Michael was apparently doing in the bathroom that night.

He’s a terrible drunk, just as bad as a friend of mine from Los Angeles, back when he used accuse me of being a star fucking prostitute just because I didn’t want to give him a ride home.

When he asks for my phone number I give it to him but I have no idea why.  In a way, I feel bad for him, even though his “I’m so shy and awkward” shtick is a total load of crap. 

“Okay,” he says.  “I’m going to call you tomorrow.”

I nod my head because if I’m lucky he’s not going to remember me tomorrow and none of this will matter.  He’ll just be drunk and high in another bar, hitting on another girl who he’ll use his extreme self-deprecation as a ploy to get her to sleep with him. 

 

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Weekend ER

Lauralie Goldman is making phone calls on the other side of the sea foam and cream tapestry curtain separating my hospital bed from her chair.  I listen to her croak Hanukkah wishes while I stare at the words “Lenox Hill Emergency Department” stitched in between various boxes filled with flora and fauna.

“I was divining a little but did you get in touch with the gentleman?  I need someone to take care of me today.  It’s too cold to be outside, you see.  And I make my money being outside.”

Lauralie Goldman is likely eighty years old and incapable of taking care of herself.  It doesn’t sound as though the gentleman she is inquiring about is able to help her.

“Could you tell him I have no family,” she says, “no one else to help me.  Can’t you tell him I’m a legitimate person?”

A legitimate person.

I’m lying on my stomach waiting for someone else to come in and look at my bug bite from hell.  With the exception of Lauralie, it is quiet.  The room hums with a comforting white noise.  No one’s shoes squeak or clatter on the linoleum floor.  Machines beep occasionally.  There is no frantic New York City to be seen through a window.  It’s nice here.  Calm.  I feel the soft fabric of my over-washed hospital gown.  I sink into the deep comfort of my hospital bed.  I breathe in air neither too cold nor too warm.  And for no reason whatsoever, I begin to cry, because the self-imposed expectation of taking care of yourself all the time is exhausting.  Nothing will fill you self-pity quite like being alone when you’re sick.

I didn’t want to come here today or yesterday.  I didn’t want to come alone.

My doctor/nurse/whatever he is comes into my curtained-off corner of the emergency room.  “You ready for the most painful thing you’ve ever experienced?” he asks.

“What?”  I ask, humored and horrified as I turn around to look at him.

“This is going to hurt reaaaaaallll bad.”

“Oh, come on man.  You can’t do that to me.”

I’m laughing because I’m nervous.  He’s taking advantage because I’m a good sport.

“Aren’t you going to numb it?”

“Yeah,” he says.  “But I’m going to stick a needle right in there.”

I’m laughing again.

He tells me he’s going to spray the bite with something really cold.  “Really cold,” he emphasizes.

I make some joke about it being sixteen degrees outside, that his threats are empty ones, but the artificial cold coming from his can becomes so frigid I think my skin is just going to shatter and fall away.

More laughing.

They think it’s funny that I’m laughing.  They think I’m cute.

I go dead quiet when I feel the needles go in, one after another after another, though it’s likely only one needle, not many.  In my head, I imagine it is many because my head is focused on pain and not logic.  “You okay?” he asks, but I don’t realize he’s talking to me at first.  My brain thinks he is talking to the RN standing next to him.

“Oh, yeah,” I say.  “I’m fine.”

My face is down in this comfortable bed while he cuts into the back of my leg.  I close my eyes or I keep them open.  I can’t remember.  He stops.

“Are we done?”

“Yep.”

I tell him I want Vicodin.

They walk away and I put on my clothes.  Lauralie Goldberg is gone.  There is blood on the bed sheets.  I get queasy.  My leg hurts.  I sit perched on a chair because I can’t sit down.  The nurses are tending to an older woman sitting by herself outside of the waiting room.  They’re asking her questions.  She’s got that breathless voice of an old person whose lungs do not work like they used to.  Breathless and soft.  A grandmother’s voice.

She keeps talking about blueberries.

She was eating lunch and then her vision went blurry.  “The blueberries,” she says.  She thinks it was the blueberries.

I hear the nurses say something about a stroke.

They change the soft bed I was just on, stripping the blood speckled white sheets with a new pair like I never happened.  The old woman is walked over.  They close the curtains but I can still see her through the corner.  They have her lying on her back so they can take off her shoes.  She is wearing black socks, worn near the heel.  The old woman wraps her arms around her knees and the nurse complements her on her bendiness.  “It was an accident,” the old woman says.  “In the ocean.”

Beyond the curtain, a serious looking doctor with a bald head has moved a machine towards them with a name on the side of it that infers life saving capabilities, which infers this woman is not doing well.  Everyone looks focused.  No one is laughing.

They wrap her in a soft sheet and push her bed away from the wall.  I notice its big plastic wheels for the first time.  Of course you can move it, I think.  This is an emergency, where emergencies happen, not just a place where young girls come to treat bug bites on weekends.  Nurses and doctors push her into the hallway, leaving a big empty space in the corner, a framed painting of flowers looking down at nothing, someone’s lost sock found against a baseboard.

“That’s hard,” the nurse says to me.  “When they start to go like that…”

“How old is she?” I ask.

“Ninety-five,” she says.  “That’s a good number.”

I stare at the empty space the two of us just shared.  Two completely different worlds.  Parallel places in space and time, her time more limited than my own.

“Yeah,” I say.  “Yeah, it is.”

 

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Playing Games

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The bowling alley is already filled with rows of Brooklyn kids heaving balls pocked like mauled wads of gum, ripe with teeth marks and sharp ridges.  Christmas lights hang along the old brick wall, the kind my parents used to hang off of the gutters of my childhood house.  Blue and red and orange and green and something white, like faded lemon or rotten cream.  Glass bulbs.  The original kind.  We kept them balled up for eleven months of the year, stuck in some crumpled cardboard box, banging against one another until half of them broke.

A kaleidoscope of festive colors spills over vintage beer signs.  Old Milwaukee Light.  Knickerbocker.  Mackeson’s Stout.  This place looks like the basement of my dad’s cop friend before he remodeled and took off the forest-themed wallpaper, tore out the shag carpet.

My friends aren’t here.  Serena texts me to say that everyone’s gone over to some beer and brat place down the street to kill time.  I meet her in the middle of a dark sidewalk.  “Jenster!” she says, running towards me with skinny legs.  She calls me Jenster.  The nickname didn’t work until finally it did, like jamming a square peg into a round hole until the friction whittled both ends into submission.

Our table of friends sits in front of drinks, an unfinished game of Scrabble in the center.  I’m terrible at Scrabble.  There are always too many options and not enough letters, too many almosts.  I scan little squares and try to think of good words, not point-efficient ones.  I always lose, my brain stuck somewhere between knowing how the game is played and trying to play it the way I want.

Tom’s been doing drugs all week.  First Vegas, then Burning Man.  “I don’t know how I did it,” he says, a wide smile crossing his lips, his eyes laughing at his extreme bodily disregard.  He doesn’t think about the long-term consequences of his actions.  He doesn’t think that his extreme exhaustion was likely a result of his body being on the precipice of giving up, of dying.

But I’m always thinking of this.

Tom and his boyfriend and Tom’s best girlfriend tell stories of late nights and early mornings partying, of people crawling out the front door of an apartment building on their hands and knees into cabs because someone bought ketamine that night and not cocaine, everyone snorting downers when they were looking for uppers.

Tom’s boyfriend buries his head in his hands, less thrilled with the story than Tom is with some of his own.  Still, everyone laughs about it now.  Our most depraved stories are always the most entertaining, unique and unoriginal at the same time.

I have never been capable of this adolescent freefall.  I was always too busy thinking about being an adult because of the things that happened to me as a child.  I wish I could be free in my debauchery, but I’m too consumed by a past history of a brother who had cancer and a family dealing prematurely with its collective mortality.

The living can dance next to death when they have never thought about it in a real way, when they have not been forced to value their lives in real terms.  They will always be here.  They will live until old age, no matter what they snort or how many drinks they consume, how many strange beds they wake up in at 3 in the afternoon.

Later, at another meeting of a different kind, I will be sitting across from two girls who ask me if I want kids and I say, “Sure, I mean maybe, who knows.”  Because I hate the assumption of “when.” 

When I get married.

When I have kids.

When I become the editor of that magazine.

Because “when” assumes that we know.  “When” assumes we are in charge.  But my brother didn’t ask to have cancer.  My parents didn’t ask to have a sick kid.  I didn’t ask to be weighted to the ocean floor with the anchor of unrelenting responsibility to God knows what.  When my mother was pregnant, I’m sure she was thinking about the ambiguous joys of motherhood, not midnight trips to the E.R, chemotherapy, spinal taps.  My mother wasn’t sitting at her baby shower thinking “when my son gets cancer.”

And so I will sit there, telling these girls the reasons I would like to have kids, but stating that I do not know if I will have them.  Because I don’t.  And even though they sit there across from me with their confused eyes and their sweet maternal intentions, they don’t know either.  I’m the one looking cold and clinical.  I’m the one playing it safe.

I am always the one playing it safe.

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From Fall

The rain came last night and wiped the heat away, washed it into sewer drains.  It came in while I was sleeping to beat down the lasting heat of summer days until twenty degrees of warmth magically disappeared.  Fall is coming with a dreadful quickness I am ill prepared for.  I am nervous of the person I will become again, holed up in my apartment, forcing my way through dark days wrapped in an old coat, thinking too much, planning too much, wondering about my life until my brain ached.

I walk down streets listening to a playlist titled “Fall 2007.”  Back then, I lived in a place where fall didn’t exist, where the Christmas spirit was a manufactured enthusiasm derived from Rockwellian images of unknown winter wonderlands, not from early morning snowfall or cups of warm cider in cold hands.  The leaves, still green, are showing signs of a visible death, the supple newness lost in days of blazing heat.  They will quickly crisp until their color fades, rattle on the branch until they fall to the ground.  And in will come the cold, as it always does.

I love it here in Brooklyn more than I ever imagined I would.  Winter’s sadness had made me hate this place – resent my distance from the city’s chaotic center and loathe my 20-degree walks to stand on a 20-degree subway platform for a train that never came.  But summer came and made everything okay again.  Summer had created the distance in spirit to make me remember who I was before February.

The sun is setting and I walk through the would-be ruins of dying industries: envelope factories, storage facilities for shipments that no longer have a place to anchor on Greenpoint shores, the old piers left jagged and crumpling into the East River like sinking ships.

I love the imperfect decay of this place, the things left to rot.  I love the weird collections in windowsills, the plastic flowers in potted plants, the hobbling and infirmed Polish grandfathers.  Brooklyn’s ugliness has its own charm, the same quality that compels people to root for the underdog.

Down the street, near the water, past century-old wooden doors warped by the sea, there is an antique store filled with people’s old things.  China sets, Victorian calling cards, medicine bottles made of tumbled glass.  There, on a wooden table, in between this and that, is a leather scrapbook with the word “Photographs” seared into its hide with golden cursive letters.  The paper pages are filled with disappearing images, the black and white blending into nearly indecipherable shapes of people that were once living.

Friends smile, play on beaches, row boats, stand on porches.  They hold babies, pose next to rose bushes wearing hats and things.  Hes and shes and all of them one hundred years dead.  I think of the unseen agonies and dramas behind each one of these photos, each individual’s personal soap opera, how they covered all of this up with matching smiles, their personalities flattened by a two-dimensional medium.  I turn the pages and think of all of these things that they are not showing that would mean absolutely nothing in a matter of decades, lives documented like bullet points, only to be found one day in an antique store to be purchased as a novelty gift.

Even our attempts at immortality can only withstand the ravages of time for so long.

I leave, passing a spot on a sidewalk outside of a bar where I once sat over one year ago, crouched next to a splattering of paint in the shape of a man’s head, laughing.  At the time I was living in Manhattan, across from a fire station in a neighborhood considered “cool.”  I had never even heard of Greenpoint.  Months later, I lived just blocks away.

I never imagined living here.  I never could have imagined living here.  And I guess that just illustrated the point: how we could never predict the strange trajectories of our lives, that planning and caring too much was ultimately futile, that the best you could do was just enjoy it all – right then and there – because none of it was going to last.

One day, my entire life will be a broken computer file, a deteriorating pixel, a bullet point on some Excel spreadsheet, some fading wisp in a virtual cloud.  None of it is meant to last.  Not summer, not fall, not winter, not me.

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