Monday mornings, I am learning, has absolutely nothing on Friday afternoons. Solely from a tiredness perspective, the former is rapturous: yes, staring down an entire week of work is demoralizing as hell, but you are coming off of two days of leisure and naps, if you are doing your weekends right. Friday afternoons, on the other hand, are when the accumulated hours of sleep that you’ve missed all week descend upon you like a cartoon anvil, flattening any optimistic hopes of carpe noctem you have may have been harboring.
Friday afternoon, last period, I was trying to complete my second pumping session of the day, but I couldn’t stop falling asleep. It’s weird to wake up and re-discover small suctioning devices attached to your chest. It’s weirder when it happens three times. The day before, one of my favorite poets tweeted about an event at a bar in the East Village, where he and several other writers would read from a selection of their work. It sounded lovely and I sent the link to Eric. He was like, sure. Friday night, 7 pm. We were going. By the time the bell rang on Friday afternoon, I was already trying to come up with excuses as to why we should stay home instead.
To my surprise, when I got home and shared my exhaustion-fueled ambivalence with Eric, he rallied rather than indulge me. Come on, it will be fun! We should go. He was right, of course. I appreciated his refusal to enable my laziness. So instead of donning sweatpants and collapsing onto the couch with Eve for a long night of Elementary and perhaps Basketball Wives, we made plans to meet at the KGB Bar. I couldn’t bring my phone because my mother-in-law’s was being fixed, and we wanted her to have mine so we could communicate while Eric and I were out. I utilized Google Maps to plan my route and foolishly neglected to make note of the directions once I exited the subway at Astor Place. I was too preoccupied with my disappointment at not being able to listen to the Hamilton soundtrack during the commute. But I liked my outfit, and it was after 6, so I needed to get going.
On the train, I opened up Prelude to Bruise, Saeed’s book, and continued where I’d left off. Poetry is meant to be read out loud, I remembered. The professor of my favorite poetry class in college had almond-colored skin and short hair. I often felt gloriously inadequate in her class, because all she did was impress upon us how difficult it is to write excellent poetry. I felt continually stymied by the process: happening upon a subject, a metaphor, a series of colors, a storm of emotion. Should I begin my poem at the beginning, like Julie Andrews sang, or in media res, the way all dreams begin? She assigned Rumi and ai, a book of poems by Tim Seibles called Buffalo Head Solos that was so instrumental in my evolution as a reader and writer — it forever changed the way that I think about words and sounds and how I can manipulate them, me, to create and destroy entire worlds, glimmering galaxies.
Read this out loud, she would remind us, for every poem assigned, and so I would return to my dorm room and read, timidly at first, feeling silly, and then louder, bolder, filling the words with my power, which was different from their authors’, but no less real or electric. And last night I read aloud Saeed’s black and blue hurt and gossamer seduction, while the subway doors flung opened and slammed shut, while passengers glanced idly at me, before returning to their phones, their books. The train filled, I avoided eyes. I didn’t speak above a murmur. I have a terrible habit of dog-earing pages I know I’ll need to return to. Even a peacock feather comes to a point. At Union Square I exited and dashed across the platform to the 6, double-checked that the next stop would be Astor Place. False: I was on the uptown train. I tried to exit and got stuck in the closing doors. Stand clear of the closing doors, please blared overhead. I waited the agonizing, requisite two seconds for the doors to open again, face set in that particular New York blend of dead-eyed apathy and harried discontent, like I wasn’t the asshole holding up the train.
Downtown 6. I tried to read quickly, because I was in the middle of the final poem in the book, more short story than poem, and it was taking my breath away. When the doors opened at Astor Place, I had to stop again, stuffing the book into my bag and climbing the stairs to meet the frosty air, the rapid throng. And I realized I didn’t know where I was going.
This is a very common occurrence for me, but I did not have a phone to consult. I was pretty sure it was on 4th Ave — 4th Street? I hate junctions with multiple street signs because it’s hard for me to decipher which street goes which way. If I made one more open-mouthed revolution on this sidewalk, someone would revoke my city citizenship. I walked with purpose in the wrong direction. “Do you know where the KGB bar is?” It was probably inching close to 7:30 and the last time I had tried to see Saeed read some poetry, I arrived just in time to see him receive applause, smile, and leave the stage. The deli cashier didn’t know. It was a poor decision to ask him, I thought, and these streets were going up: 9th, 10th. I turned around and walked back toward the traffic-heavy intersection, the last place you want to be when you’re lost.
All of the people I wanted to ask for directions were wearing headphones. It’s an epidemic, I began to think, with no small amount of frustration, as if I would not normally be dance-walking while historical hip hop blared directly into my ears. There was a certain type of person I knew I had to ask who would know where this bar was. Like porn, I couldn’t describe this person: I would just know when I saw them. A group: late twenties, multi-racial, either slightly drunk or about to be. “Excuse me — ” I was wearing my glasses. The combination of glasses and the setting sun leave me half-blind and squinting, but I tried not to squint. “Do you know where the KGB bar is?”
Jackpot. The Asian girl paused, tapped her chin, looked at her friend: tall guy, racially ambiguous, you know, brown-ish. “I know that name,” she mused. “KGB? I’m preeeety sure I had a birthday there once,” he confessed. “But I’m not sure — ” “Let’s look it up,” the girl announced, whipping her iPhone out with a flourish. A short white man in a quirky hat was either hyper or more intoxicated than the others. “KBG, beegee, see-be-jeebies. That place…closed down…”
“KBG,” I corrected. “Thanks so much, seriously. I don’t have my phone on me.” (“Oh, what did I say?”)
“It’s on 4th,” the girl told me, and I nodded. “You said CBGB.”
He grinned, shook his head, wobbled a bit. “This conversation is giving me the heebie jeebies!” I didn’t respond, as he was not much help at all, and actually sort of off-putting. The girl handed me her phone and I thumbed through the map she had found, despairing. “I can’t read maps for shit,” she laughed. A kindred soul. I snorted, “I can’t either.”
“Here,” the tall guy said, and I passed the phone over. Streams of pedestrians re-routed their paths around the small obstruction we were making on the narrow sidewalk. “It’s a few blocks that way,” he directed, pointing in the direction I had been walking.
“Okay, that’s what I thought.” I felt bad for all of the trouble they’d gone to for me, itched to get away.
“Yeah, it’s on 4th and Second Ave,” the girl confirmed, jabbing a thumb in the same direction as the guy, the direction I also believed was correct, the direction I wanted to be walking in. “Like, four-ish? Blocks? Yeah, cuz — ” she craned her neck the opposite way. “That way isn’t right.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. Yeah.
“So yeah, that way. And then, make, uhhhh — ” she grabbed the phone, stared. At least my coat was warm. “Make a left?”
“Yeah, I should find it.” It was a bar, it would have a sign. (Be nice.) “Thank you so much, seriously!”
“No problem! Enjoy!”
“Thanks, have a good night!” Freed, I glided away from the group, from the intersection, brimming with gratitude for the crisp night, for the kindness of strangers, for the wine that would await me at this bar, and hoped I hadn’t kept Eric waiting too long. Another intersection — crap.
“Excuse me-” I was a pro at this now — “Is Second Avenue this way?”
It was. The street was quiet, lit with laundromat signs, bright yellow windows, aggravated, one-sided phone conversations. KGB Bar was bold and red and blue-lit, and I climbed the stairs, opened the door, and climbed some more. The crowd was incredible, the room dark and loud. I paused, and another woman paused behind me. “Wow,” she whispered.
Seriously. “I know, right.”
“Is your friend reading poetry tonight?” she asked. Funny question, I thought. “No, is yours?”
“Yeah.” And before I could ask who she was friends with, she dove into the fray. I puzzled for a minute before I caught sight of Eric’s waving arm, connected to his body, which was perched beside the bar. I floated to him, the safe port in a storm. I ordered my wine. He was drinking whiskey. “It’s Makers,” he shrugged, ice clinking. The room was very hot, and filled with Soviet-themed posters and memorabilia. When the reading started, I tried to stay within my body and listen, rather than picture what I looked like in that moment, holding my tiny wine glass, like I was trying to be the person I imagined would be in a small bar, listening to authors reading, on a Friday night. We were at the front, almost close enough to touch the authors who read, dimly lit by the spotlight that shone on their pages, their slightly shaking hands. There was another event happening in another part of the building, or maybe it was just an ordinary dance floor, and we all valiantly ignored the snatches of sound that filtered in, until a woman’s voice shattered the hush — shut the FUCK up — and we all laughed, the author too, adjusting their glasses and restarting the paragraph. I took another sip of my wine, felt my head lighten, and wondered if my teeth were turning red. I leaned back into Eric, felt him breathing behind me, content.
Saeed read the last poem in his book, the one that is more like a short story. There was no better way to hear the ending, and I told him so, after the show. He remembered me from my failed attempt to see him at the Brooklyn Book Festival, and hugged me. Eric introduced himself. We complimented all of the writers, except one, because we couldn’t find him. He read very quickly, and his writing was whip-sharp, hilarious, and stung in just the right places at just the right times. I want to read his book when it comes out. After I post this, I’ll Google his name.
“We should do more stuff like this,” we resolved as we left, coats zipped and buttoned against the cold.
“Want to get ramen?” Eric asked me, and I smiled, and put my hand in his. He led us there, of course, because I wasn’t sure of where we were, where we were going.
Originally published at www.carlawaslike.com on October 24, 2015.