for friendship

For friendship, fulfillment, and that loving feeling you've been longing for,

write to: PO Box 2333, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY 11779

Thursday, August 25, 2011

American Rock and Roll

We were warned the city was dangerous, ghost story cautions of Long Island parents. Don't drive into that neighborhood. I don't care who's playing, yer gonna get mugged. If your car breaks down there in the middle of the night, it's your own fault.

The show was lame, so Ali and I walked over the Williamsburg into the big city. The weather was still warm, and wind made the bridge sway like the drunks making their way across it on unsteady feet. Ali had to pee, so I stood guard, looking both ways while she squatted under the hazy orange safety lamps. On the walk over, we found the skeletal remains of a pigeon, the wings mostly, which had been placed over the railing of the JMZ in a delicate balancing act against the wind.

“If we got killed on this bridge, it would probably be a while before anyone noticed our bodies,” I said.

“I'm trying to pee here. Can we save this discussion for when I'm less vulnerable?”

“I mean, like, it's mostly bikers, and none of them are noticing you pee, so it would probably take someone on foot to notice two disemboweled young women.”

Ali jumped up, zipping her jeans. “First off, that bird isn't disemboweled. It's just been dead for a long time. Second of all, I think that one or both of us have the exceptional fighting skills to fend off an attacker long enough for someone with a cell phone to ride by and alert the proper authorities.”

I thought about it. A guy with a beard whizzed past on a fixie. “I dunno. It could take a while for someone to come. Neither of us are killing machines.”

Ali raised an accusing eyebrow. The week before I had knocked someone's teeth out with a pair of rollerskates outside of a show. So maybe I was only half-right.

“I forgot I had skates in my hand when I hit him.”

Ali kept giving me that look.

“Alright, maybe he deserved it.”

The J-train rocked the bridge under our feet, and the wind felt weird in the spots where I had shaved my head. I was going for a futuristic, one-half shaved, one-half long sorta side-mohawk, but instead the cowlick that nature had already given me just made me look kind of balding and moth-eaten. Ali's hair was chopped into something that looked like a blue and purple Space Mullet or, maybe more appropriately, Weedwack Unicorn. Much of our friendship involved one-upping each other in conceptual haircuts our mothers hated.

We turned onto Essex, passing a hoard of Friday night drunks. “I took this developmental psychology class last semester, and I think we might be experiencing an extended adolescence.”

“Hm. Do explain.”

“Well, the fits of self-expression through haircutting. Laughing at fart jokes like thirteen year-old boys. Wolf shirts. Fist-fighting. I could go on.”

“In my defense, the fist-fighting is only with drunk people, and only when they start it. I just finish it.”

At twenty-two, I had never drank alcohol. At twenty-eight, it's still the number one thing that surprises people about me. I grew up surrounded by alcoholism, learned how to defend myself, and was raring to kick-ass if someone made the mistake of spilling beer on my shoes, threw an open cup into the crowd, or, god-forbid, breathed Jager in my face when I had skates in my hand.

“I mean, that guy last week. That guy really had it coming.”

Ali nodded in agreement. We walked up First Avenue, hungry, with early September sweat spreading like a spirograph on the back of our shirts. The best falafel I'd found was on St. Marks, near the methadone clinic. In spite of the junkies nodding on the steps outside, I felt nothing but a stern disappointment in the danger levels of the city. It felt like I'd missed out on everything cool, the Harvey Keitel New York, porno booths and small time gangsters and people stabbing each other in crimes of passion in plain sight. I was the only person in my family to venture off of Long Island, head swimming with a lifetime of Sunday afternoon movies on Channel 11, gritty and unpredictable, Pushermen and unsanitized needles at every turn. I couldn't even pretend I was around for the good stuff. Guiliani-era New York was a total wash. The streets were clean, and punk-themed gift-shops every five feet were neon fuck-yous to my imagination.

Once inside Tastee Falafel, I tried to place myself in a different New York. The floor was dirty. It looked like someone had crushed a bug on the yellowed wall near the Pepsi fridge. If I thought hard enough and blocked out the tourists walking by in I HEART NY t-shirts, this could be 1977. Ali and I squinted at the letterboard sign over the counter, listening to a moth sizzle in an overhead bulb.

“Two falafels,” I said, sidling up to the register, brave and cool, an extra in a Scorsese movie.

“It is coming right up, miss,” the guy at the counter said, handing back my change and giving me a wink. Ali got napkins, and we sat down near the buzzing soda cooler.

“I feel cheated. Nothing is scary anymore. I'm not afraid of anything.”

“Student loans? Tooth decay? The real world?” Ali suggested.

“Nah, I dunno. I'll never live long enough to get to any of that. I'm talking about real fear.”

The counter guy approached our table. “Ladies, I give you pudding free.” He put down two dishes of milky, gelatinous semi-solid.

“Um, thank you.” I looked at Ali, who was recently vegan. I knew it was up to me to not offend our host. I dove in, and it was disgusting. “Um, I think there has been a mistake. There's potpourri in my pudding.”

“No, is rosewater, for two beautiful roses.” He pulled up a chair and sat down backwards. I looked at Ali, Indian Summer perspiration from the walk over was matting the bangs to her forehead. I caught a glimpse of my own gross reflection in the glass door. We looked more like dandelions that someone had 'he-loves-me-not'-ed into disfigurement. “My name is Ihab.”

“Um, I'm Cassie.”

“I'm Stephanie,” Ali said, leagues ahead of me in social-savvy anonymity.

“Beautiful names. Beautiful roses. You have boyfriend?”

“No,” I said.

“I'm gay,” Ali said at the same time.

“Maybe we hang out sometime?”

“Not a chance,” said Ali.

“Sure!” I said, and blurted out my phone number.

We left the falafel place and walked back over the bridge.

“That was dumb,” Ali said.

“And yet, I find myself doing it every time.”

“What are you gonna do if he actually calls you?”

The train rumbled past. My voice was lost to the sound of metal on metal, and Ali and I stood at the orange railing caging us in from the blackness beneath.

Ali looked at me. “Isn't that a little dangerous?” And I shrugged.

**

I did not have a cell phone, and rattling off my parents' number was second nature.

“Cassie! Somebody is on the phone for you! I can't understand his name!”

“Just say I'm busy!”

“This is the fourth time he's called and I already told him you're home! Just take the damned phone! I'm trying to watch my show, for God's sake!”

There was nothing risky about going to a state school and living at home. Ali had gotten accepted to college in Massachusetts, so a few days after our encounter with Ihab, I was pretty much left to my own devices. I drank coffee by myself at the diner, rode my bicycle alone, and missed my best friend. There wasn't a whole lot to do, anyway. Might as well try to score us both free halal food for life by going on a weird hang-out with the guy from the falafel place.

“I live in Bronx. You know where that is?”

“Yeah, the toll is like $4.00 to get there.”

“I make it worth your while, okay? I have Thursday off, so you come then. I see you Thursday.”

“Well, I guess I really don't have anything better to do.” I scanned the spines of my records in their psychotic alphabetical order that only happens when you are nervous and bored. I really didn't have anything better to do.

“Good. I see you then.” He hung up the phone. I picked through my records again. The Shemps were playing in Brooklyn that day. That was something to look forward to, if I didn't end up being smoked into street meat before then.

Thursday came, and my enthusiasm for driving from eastern Long Island all the way to the Bronx out of some skewed sense of duty started to wane. I got stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway and tried to pep-talk myself into feeling jazzed to meet up with Ihab. After all, Ali and I hadn't really known each other when we first hung out. We had seen each other at parties for years, nodding in recognition the way people do when you admire someone’s mental patient haircut or Crass button, but feel too lame to say anything. We finally became friends after Ali read a few of my stories and asked me to meet up to drink syrupy three AM diner coffee. Maybe Ihab was secretly into something really cool. Maybe he drummed in a band. Maybe he was into the Sea Monkeys or the Lunachicks. Maybe he wrote poetry or collected comic books.

I got lost in the Bronx and had to get out and ask for directions at the shadiest gas station I had ever seen.

“Whatchu doing in this neighborhood?”

“Um, I'm asking myself that very question right now.”

“You gotta turn left, turn right, go a ways, and it'll be on your left. If you hit Castle Hill Avenue, you gone too far, and you best not hit Castle Hill Avenue cuz they tear someone like you up.”

“Great. Thank you. That's wonderful news.” I walked back to my car and a crackhead was looking into my passenger side window. “Um, excuse me,” I said, making a hands-out-Jesus gesture.

“You gotta dolla?”

“Um, no. Please get out of my way.” I unlocked the door, started the car, and sped off. I got lost again, this time on Castle Hill Avenue. There was a guy walking and swinging what looked like a machete, so I turned around a few times to find someplace friendly enough to direct me where I should be going.

“GIRL, what in the HELL you doing out here?”

“I''m not really sure at this point.”

“This neighborhood is DANGEROUS. You lost your mind?”

I thought about it. “Probably.”

When I went back to my car, four people were looking in the window. “Hey, folks. Nothing to see here.”

“You gotta dolla?”

“Nope, but thanks for asking.” I unlocked my car and jumped in. I started to rethink my opinions on New York. The parts I had been hanging out in had been tamed into what looked like the inside of an Urban Outfitters, but there were other parts that were actually kind of terrifying, like the backdrop for a dramatic re-enactment on America's Most Wanted. This was a New York I hadn't explored, nor was I really in the mood to that night, lost somewhere in the Bronx, in the neighborhoods my parents warned me about, on my way to hang out with the falafel guy.

I rolled up to Ihab's apartment and leaned on the horn.

“You are coming!” he said, slamming the door and putting on his seatbelt. “I am made so glad. Where are you taking me for our date?”

“Hey, nobody said anything about a date.”

“Oh, yes, yes. We are just hanging out like friends. Like on Dawson's Creek, no?” Ihab had really poured the cologne on pretty thick. He was wearing cargo shorts, flip-flops, and the New York City shirt that John Lennon is wearing in that photo. It was like an Abercrombie ad in smellovision.

“Look, I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean. I do know I'm kind of hungry, so we're gonna get food before I freak out.” I drove to the diner on East Tremont Avenue. We got out of the car, and Ihab reached for my hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, I am just stumbling,” he said, and put his hand back in his pocket.

Once in the diner, I looked at the menu for something that would make me feel better about how consistently terrible my decisions were. Cheesecake always does the trick. Coffee usually makes me rethink every moment of my life, so I opted for water instead. The waitress took our menus, and I scratched the zigzags on my mohawk where my hair was starting to grow in.

“So, Ihab, how did you decide to come to America?”

“Oh, American movies.”

“Which ones?”

“The Waiting to Exhale. The Harry and the Sally.”

“Really?”

“They are very beautiful. They are showing what life is about. Friendships and the beautiful women loving each other.”

The waitress put down our food. Everyone in the diner was eating in perfect silence. Forks did not chink against china. No one slurped coffee. Couples ate in absolute solemnity, somewhere past the point of arguing or loving. There was only the sound of Ihab cutting up a chicken finger and my heart ticking somewhere in my gut. Maybe there were no good decisions, only the decisions that got you where you were going.

“But why New York?” I asked, not hungry, moving my cheesecake from one edge of the plate to the next.

“Well, my father is very wealthy, and I like American movies, so I ask to go to New York. Bright lights. Opportunity. Beautiful, beautiful women. But I come to New York and I cannot find work. Nobody wants to hire. I speak English in perfect, and still nobody cares a fuck. I get job as dishwasher, and I realize, America is suck. America is hard work. America is shitty. Why anyone want to work so hard to live in shoebox is for idiot.”

That made sense. I guess we had a commonality. Neither Ihab nor myself were really into busting ass for no good reason. I would probably never want to work hard enough to live in a city where the train was outside of my window or my mattress could become infested with superpowered bugs that could crawl through walls and floors.

“So then what?” I asked, scraping a fleck of dried food from my waterglass.

“So, I move back to my country. It is nicer there.”

“Yeah, but how did you end up back here?”

“Do you have boyfriend?”

“No,” I said.

“Why you no have boyfriend? Beautiful girl need boyfriend.”

I twirled my rattail around my finger. “Um, thanks but no thanks. I'm militantly single.”

“Yes, but sometimes you need boyfriend to do boyfriend things, no?”

“I can do most boyfriend things myself. Thanks for asking, though.”

“But you cannot do all boyfriend things, no? So sometimes you need boyfriend.” This seemed to conclude Ihab's end of the debate. The diner was quiet except for the sounds of coffee brewing somewhere in the kitchen. I thought about my life, me and Ali's extended adolescence, whether I would ever figure out how to react normally to beer spilled on my shoes or say no to invitations to hang out with strangers.

“Um, have you ever been in a fight?”

“Oh, yes! Yes!” Ihab shook the ketchup, padding the bottom of the bottle with the palm of his hand. “Oh, yes. That's why I am coming back.”

“What do you mean?”

“In my country, there are beautiful parks in every neighborhood. Not like New York, where there are the needles and the broken glass and the trash. In my country, the parks are beautiful and the people care and the people take care of them. My father is wealthy old man. He is very old , and he care about three things: money, his country, and the flowers in park. My father, he go to park every day and water flowers, he pull bad plant, he dig tree. My father love park as much as his country. So, my father go to park and come back one day. He say, 'Ihab, my hose is gone.' And somebody steal hose from park, and my father is very sad, because is nice hose. Is very quality hose. So, I go to park, and I ask the people, and they say they know who took hose. So, I get friend, and I get baseball bat, and I go to house of thief who took hose and I knock, and I say, 'Motherfucker, you give me my hose.' And the thief, he say, 'I fuck you! I don't have hose!' And I say, 'Motherfucker, you get one more chance and you give me my hose!' And the thief, he say, 'I fuck you. No hose here, motherfucker.'”

I looked at Ihab, who was still shaking the ketchup bottle. I thought about telling him to hit the little 57 on the glass but I didn't want interrupt. “And then what happened?”

“So I say, 'Motherfucker, you are dishonoring my family. You get me my hose,' and he say, “I fuck you.'”

The diner was silent. A man read yesterday's copy of the Post in a corner booth. Someone washed dishes in the kitchen. I was terrified. “And then what happened?”

“So, I take bat and I HIT HIM and HIT HIM and HIT HIM and HIT HIM until I hear my friend say, 'Motherfucker, his eye come out!' So I look and I think, 'Oh, shit. His eye come out.' So then we run.”

The ketchup poured out of the bottle. My mouth hung open in horror. “And then what?”

“So, police come, and I start to think America is not so bad. So my father, he buy me plane ticket, and I come back to New York. And, is not so bad. I miss my country, but I have okay job. I meet beautiful women. I eat french fry at diner. America not so bad.”

“But what happened to the guy who stole your dad's garden hose?”

“Oh, motherfucker in wheelchair with glass eye. He learn lesson though.”

We got the check. Ihab and I walked back to the car. I unlocked the passenger door, speechless to the point of mummification. Ihab looked at the sticker on my window. “What is 'Shemps?'”

“Oh, my friends' band.” I walked around to the driver's side and started the car.

“Like, music band?”

“Yeah, um. Like, American rockandroll.”

“Oh. American rockandroll. I listen to house music. Is good for dancing with girlfriend. You like Moby?”

“Um, no. Not really.” We drove back to his apartment in silence.

“You are liking to come upstairs? I have Moby on compact disc...” He tried to hug me. I held out my hand for him to shake.

“Um, no thanks. Thanks for tonight, though. It's given me a lot to think about.”

When Ihab got out of the car, he waved for a long time from the corner of the Bronx where I dropped him off. I drove to the Shemps show, which was in a neighborhood that for once in my life, I was glad was so tame and familiar. Someone threw beer onto the crowd, and I did my best not to freak out, watering a new leaf I could feel growing in the place where all my decisions happen, the good kind and the bad kind, but I guess, in a way, they are both the same.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Warmer

Have you ever lived in a moment where you are fully aware of its frailty, where even your breath feels light and transient, and you know that one day, you'll never have reason to set foot in this place again, that the memories and both the person in front of you and the person you are right then will evaporate in the course of human decision?

I miss things when they are gone, but, sometimes, I miss things when they are still here.
**

We came home, and the sky fell down over the Bronx, the streetlamps turning the glassy roads into opaque sheets of orange. We got back to the apartment and circled the block for parking a million times until, by some seizure of luck, something opened up a few yards from the building. Wrought iron fences, small lawns no bigger than a twin bed, frozen ornamental Marys-on-the-half-shell huddled under the falling snow, all knowing there was very little to be done about New York in January.

“I am soooo hungry.” Alex parked the car and I drew in the condensation of the window. In the dust that floated from the elevated 6 Train and coated everything like concealer from the powderpuff of some demented, omnicient prom queen, someone had written “FAG” in cursive, which wouldn't disappear no matter how many times it rained or birds shit on the already defeated Geo Prism.

“Let's bring everything in the house first,” Alex said, turning off the engine and popping the trunk. The thing about turning off the car was that it seemed like it would never start again, so shutting off the ignition was like kissing a sick grandmother on a visit and crossing yourself on the way out.

I had two suitcases and a plastic shopping bag full of souvenirs and polaroids of Graceland, the mountains of Georgia, and the outdoor fleamarket in Florida.

We let ourselves into the building, and Alex fumbled with his keys at the door of the apartment, holding a backpack with two fingers and a suitcase with two more, digging around in his coat pocket.

We threw our stuff down in the hallway and collapsed on the ripped brown leather couch in the livingroom.

“Chinese?” I said, hopeful.

“If it's open,” he said, sinking further into the couch and closing his eyes.

“It's always open.”

The Chinese place glowed yellow at the end of the street, just across East Tremont Avenue. There was a diner, too, which was always open, but it was usually full of couples in varying degrees of unhappiness, young people drunk and bickering, saying things like, “What the FUCK is that supposed to mean?”; sullen, middle-aged couples not talking but moving around the eggs on their plates in a weird gesture of silent punishment; old men sitting by themselves at all hours of the night, reading the Post from cover to cover, over and over like the news might change. We didn't go there often. At that diner, all relationships felt on the verge of a divorce by default of energetic vortex.

We put on our wet Converse and went back into the snow. The sidewalk hadn't been shoveled, so we made fresh tracks from the apartment across the deserted street to the open restaurant. It was a rare moment, everything quiet and windless. If Dickens had written the Bronx into a novel, ghosts would rattle their chains at the door to the apartment, asking for packets of soy sauce and offering a glimpse into our past. Instead, we jaywalked through the empty street and I pointed out the icicles hanging dangerously from the rolling gate over the door of the restaurant.

The Peking Inn was lit with a medicinal fluorescence that hurt your eyes, but we went there with such blinding regularity that they gave us free spring rolls and crab rangoons, which I ate even though I was a vegetarian, because the crab was imitation and therefore, could really be anything.

“Do you know what you're getting?” Alex said, stomping the snow from his sneakers.

“Of course.” I had been dreaming of what I would get since Delaware, driving up I-95 in the brutal snow, thinking of tires and hubcaps battered and fried.

A little girl colored menus in the corner. It was after midnight, but she looked wide awake. It reminded me of myself at four or five, ready for the world when everybody else was in bed. Sometimes I would go with my mom to her night job at the IRS. They would set me up at a desk with dot matrix paper and a bruise palette of blue, green, and black markers, the kind that produced toxic fumes and squeaked like a broken hinge, eeeeeking-out self-portraits and trees until I ran out of paper.

Alex gave them our order, then he took his place across from me at the booth, starving and tired and talked-out from so many hours of driving. We had driven straight through since South of the Border, taking pictures on the concrete statues, hugging the gorilla, spanking the giant weinerdog. We got gas a few times, and stopped once at the discount emporium that was advertised on billboards for miles. I found a collection of puppets named after biblical characters and Alex looked at cowboy boots. The storm was getting worse, so people were leaving in a steady stream. I put down the Judas I had been walking around with and found Alex so we could leave, too.

Outside of the store, to the left of the entrance, there was a strong, but tiny meowing. We turned at the same time to see a black kitten behind a Pepsi vending machine. Its face was crusty and one of its legs looked like it had been broken and healed poorly. It saw us and hastily climbed into a hole in the back of the machine.

Alex looked at me. His eyes were wet. “Do you think we could lure it out with food?”

I ran to the car and found a bag of pretzels. I walked back to where Alex was standing guard and offered them, shrugging. He made a trail of pretzels from the back of the machine. We waited. The wind whipped and freezing rain started to come down. We could see the cat was moving around inside.

“Maybe we're too close?” I suggested. We moved nearer to the entrance. The cat stayed in the machine. We waited and waited. The weather got worse.

I breathed into my hands. Alex looked at me. Without saying another word, we walked back to the car.

Our order was up. The little girl was using crayons, which didn't make much noise at all. Alex got our tray. The wind picked up and blew snow against the glass.

“Do you think he'll make it?” I never had answers, at least not for the important stuff.

“Well, I dunno.” I looked outside to where our footprints were already gone, filled in by more snow. “Things have a way of working themselves out if they were meant to.”

The apartment was cold when we got back. There was a spoon stuck to the counter and no one had taken out the garbage since before we left. Streetlights filtered through the yellow curtains. We put on an album, brushed our teeth, and waited for the sheets to get warm.





Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Time Capsule of Shame

I am having a yard sale at my parents house, and this past week since I've been home from tour, I have been rooting through the darkest corners of the basement and attic for things I should get rid of. I uncovered something I have long forgotten about, and it's something you should all probably see before you decide whether or not you really want me in your life as your favorite new author.

When I was sixteen, I took a construction class in high school. One of the assignments was to make a model home, and I modified the measurements of all the beams so that I could make it into a dollhouse to secretly reconstruct into my bachelor adult dreamhouse once I was able to take it home. Here are some pictures of what I pulled out of the closet. I wiped away the spider webs and dead bees, but aside from that, this is how I found it.


Ahh, periwinkle exterior. A fine choice for a home. Surely your neighbors won't hatecrime you in the future, as they have done your first sixteen years, Young Cassie.


Here is the upstairs boudoir. We see that in the future, I will enjoy a sprawling view of the big city, as well as a larger-than-life poster of the Kids in the Hall, who I loved with my whole heart and taped every episode. I obviously don't need anyone to love me, because you can see I have selected a twin bed in the creepy attic room of my dreamhouse. However...


...a mirror over the bed! Maybe I was hoping for a love 'em and leave 'em lifestyle in the future. "Yeah, I'll pay your cabfare home, you can even use my best cologne. Just don't be here in the morning when I wake up."



Now, we walk down the non-existent staircase into the livingroom, where we can see the Smurfs are having a party. I really DO NOT remember playing with Smurf figurines when I was in my JUNIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, but the evidence here seems to tell a much different tale.


Here we have a picture of my cousins and me, shrunk down in microsoft paint, and also a very attractive photo of Scott Thompson from the Kids in the Hall, who I had a major crush on, even though I knew our love could never be.


"Hey, Fairies! Pizza's here!"

"SMURFY!"


"Hold on, I'm checking my emails!"

"Papa! A-HAHAHAHAHAH!"


Well, thanks for visiting my teenage fantasy bachelor pad. This will be for sale on Saturday in my parents' driveway. Feel free to email me your bids on this fanciful time capsule of my loneliness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Are You Ready, Steve? Andy?

I will never know what it is like to be young and rich, like cocaine and loose women, do you party, dance-your-ass-off rich. Rich like call for room service and pay whoever brings down my five-hundred dollar bottle of champagne to tell me I'm a star or let me dress them like like an adult baby. C'mon kid. I'll give you a hundred bucks. Nobody has to know.

I made out with someone who was on cocaine once. It was Easter Sunday, the year I decided not to have dinner with my family anymore. It always turns into a fight anyway, like the year my mom asked us to say grace, which was ridiculous because not one of us has ever been to church in our lives. I think she fell asleep watching a marathon of sitcoms on PAX TV, the deceptively Christian network, and woke up believing she had another family, one that was moral, chaste, and prudent. She asked us to say grace, and when nobody volunteered, she asked again, like we hadn't heard because we were each very involved in a private prayer of our own, and not that we were ignoring her. So I said, “Thank you, God, for this bountiful feast, which Christ died bleeding on the cross for.” And then I put my hand in the cranberry sauce and wiped it across my face like an Easter warrior.

Well, nothing was ever the same after that, either screaming over whose job it was to thaw the corn, or dead silence, which, even though it sounds like it would help with digestion, actually makes you feel like you have a chestnut lodged in your esophagus. So, that Easter, I stayed in bed until five, opting out of our traditional family group-hate, and went to karaoke.

The only place open on Easter was Lit Lounge, this dank cave on the Lower East Side that always looked like there should be a college geology major giving guided cavern tours and telling you to watch your step. I had just sang “Ballroom Blitz,” and it turned out to be a real show-stopper. Maybe it was drugs, or maybe it was the Holy Spirit, but everyone lost their minds dancing, the whole room orange and swaying, lit up like amber waves of grain. Some photographer was taking my picture and asked my name. I handed him my business card, xeroxed and laminated for free at my job, something I had for no real reason because I don't do anything in particular. He looked at it- FEMME FATALE OF KARAOKE- threw me against a wall and started making out with me. I couldn't figure out why my face suddenly went numb, like I had been watching TV and didn't realize I was sitting on my lips and tongue the whole time. My heart was racing, but I chalked it up to soda and the excitement of making out with somebody I didn't already know.

My friend Dave was the only person I knew there. He was older, Canadian, and a CEO of a company that made things that glowed in the dark. He was pretty weird, but we bonded while singing “Hot Legs” by Rod Stewart once at another karaoke.

“Do you know that guy?” he asked, laughing and astonished at what a monumental creep I had become in a manner of minutes.

“No,” I said, feeling my face to make sure it was still there. “Isn't it great?”

Five minutes of song. Sixty minutes of glory and sloppy, cardiac-stress. Two hours of looking up facial paralysis on WedMD. Those days have passed me by, if they ever really existed. No chance now of becoming the sort of person who wears iridescent pantsuits, stilettos, and acrylic nails with the pinkie extra long, spending money like it's not even mine. Oh, it's not that far, but let's hop in a cab anyway. Money's no object but a burnt hole in this manicured hand, and everything is gonna be all chocolate covered strawberries from here on out, baby. Now, would you be a dear and pass the mirror?

Monday, August 1, 2011

'til the night turns into day

Chris and Alyssa picked me up and we drove to Montauk Point to watch the sun come up over the very edge of Long Island. It's tourist season on the east end, and the four-in-the-morning partiers crowded into the streets of the Hamptons, making us slow down for the people stumbling into traffic like a game of Douchebag Frogger. It's usually a quiet drive, no one around except cops waiting at speedtraps. County Road 27 always feels like it's yours if you're driving on it at night.

We got there when it was still dark. Chris lit a cigarette in the parking lot and looked up, saying you could see the Milky Way. I have never really understood what I was looking at when it comes to constellations, but I stared up at the sky anyway. I can point out the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, but if I stare long enough, everything becomes one huge overlapping Dipper, a trippy velvet poster brought to you by astigmatism and overactive imagination. The beam from the lighthouse cut the sky at the horizon and we walked the path down the dunes to the beach.

I am skeptical of nature and afraid of the ocean. Sea and space are the two last undiscovered frontiers. I “get” space. It's infinite. There could be aliens. They might want Reese's Pieces, or they might want to probe us with Bob Barker microphones like they did to Christopher Walken in Communion. I can fathom supernatural attack, but there is something about the ocean I can't get down with. The possibility of wild animals nibbling your feet. The freak shark attacks. The undertow. I grew up in a town with a lake, and that lake also has a mythical Indian Princess who claims one swimmer every summer- Lake Ronkonkoma's answer to Jason Voorhees. Nothing is sacred in nature. There is no talking a Great White into giving you your hands back, no reasoning with a Man-O-War over whether or not to sting you. But here I was, at the ocean with two of my favorite people, taking deep, salty breaths and sitting on a blanket under a perfect starlit sky. Chris and Alyssa have been through a lot as a couple, a rough few years they have weathered together. They always find room for me to tag along with them, and I am glad to be there, even if I am privately terrified of finding a body washed up on shore like the first five minutes of Special Victims Unit.

Chris and Alyssa held hands, and I stared out into the void, flipping through the cesspool rolodex of memories, listening to the waves roll in and out, seagulls calling somewhere down the sand. This reminded me of something, something buried way deep in there. I squinted and zoned out to the sounds of the tide until, finally, there it was.

The seventh grade was easily the worst year of my life, as it is for most people who don't turn out to be the sort of person who drives a Hummer or yells “fag” at pedestrians. I laid awake night after night, staring at the glowing red eyes of my rooster alarm clock until I finally fell asleep around five in the morning. Then I woke up forty minutes later to be at the bus on time, ready for the looming ass-kicking and emotional stress that had me going gray when I was seventeen.

I finally worked up the courage to say something to my mother, crying like a hysterical person about my insomnia and anxiety until I was snotting on myself, unable to muster the dignity to wipe it.

And then my mom did something remarkable. She got up from the couch and turned off the television and she said, “Get in the car.” And then we drove to the Sam Goody in the mall and she said, “Do you want Lightening Storm or Sounds of the Sea?” And I said, “Sounds of the Sea...I guess.” And then we drove back home. Every night after that, as I lay awake in my own personal shark attack, listening to the sounds of an imaginary beach on a compact disc, I knew in my heart that everything was terrible and it would never, ever change.

“I think I hate the ocean,” I said, back in the present day. It was more of an affirmation than directed at anyone in particular.

But then the horizon turned cupcake pink. Chris picked up a dead eel that two crabs were fighting over and Alyssa took pictures. Then a gang of bikers came down the path and watched the sunrise with us. Alyssa said I should talk to them, but the surrealism of talking to bikers with the sun coming up was just too much. Instead, I looked for shells and stared longingly at their leather vests and long, gray ponytails. When I realized that no sand had gotten in my sneakers, I finally thought, “Maybe the ocean's not so bad.”

Alyssa said there was a place that made coconut pancakes back in town, so we left the beach and the bikers ended up at the pancake house, too. We seated ourselves and watched from the window as a BMW parked across the street from all the Harleys lined up at the curb. The man who got out closed the car door with one hooked metal hand and held his keys and a newspaper in another. Then he came in the pancake house and took a seat at the counter next to us. He unfolded the paper, manipulating the pages with the shiny replacement hands. The waitress said, “Hi, Steve,” and took his order and then our orders and she said it would be all out in a minute, like this was the most average Sunday morning ever and we were all lucky to be there, eating pancakes like people who know they've beaten the undertow.