Twenty five dollars and a six pack to my name-- six pack-- spent the rest on beer so who’s to blame?
The story starts like most of my stories: with alcohol, or I guess, with a bit about alcohol. I was walking with a friend; we were going through a city I was leaving. It was late at night, and we had to run some errands we didn’t have time to do during the day. He was telling me how he feels that the place we were in had what the DSM calls 'an alcohol dependency’ — the folks there got antsy if they didn’t have a drink every couple of days. I nodded along.
I stayed for the next day to get lunch with a friend; he sucked down three Martinis. I had a beer and a double vodka tonic, and then he left for work, and I left to catch a bus. I forgot a bag along the way.
What else can we do now, except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair? The night’s bustin' open and these two lanes will take us anywhere.
The bus was a standard East Coast daily; it called itself efficient, and reasonably priced. Efficient meant it had small seats, reasonably priced meant that they didn’t have a decent bathroom. I wasn’t sober when I got on; I was probably ok by the time I got the call offering me a job in Scranton. It was good-- I made a half joke that just came across as confusing, she said she couldn’t hear me over the static. The passengers around me seemed annoyed that I took a call mid-trip; I was one of four people calling someone in a bus meant to comfortably hold fifteen.
Three hours later, I got off the bus, ran to the city’s rail hub, and spent the last $23 in my bank account on a cheap bodega meal and a train ticket home. I was the second to last person on board.
Have you degenerated-- are you running out of time? Do you want nice things? Sure you do.
Last week I asked a cousin to read a story I wrote. I had got warmer feedback than normal, and convinced myself that I should submit it to the New Yorker.
(This plan fell apart two days after this episode, when I read the story again and realized it was, frankly, stupid).
He said it felt autobiographical, unstructured, and generally uneasy. I told him it wasn’t auto-biographical, but I solicited his opinions about the rest. He said he didn’t know how to say it, but he normally kept to action books and spy thrillers, like most people. That’s when I remembered that all the surreal literature I push down my throat isn’t normal-- I had a definite realization that, bluntly, I was the weird one in the conversation.
The story was unstructured and uneasy, so I suppose it was autobiographical in that sense. This was home before the call-- I had nothing to do, and that made me anxious. I thought about drinking. I thought about hitting on girls at the bars, I thought about skating, seeing shows, whatever.
Each was something — that was all I wanted. Something to do: I wouldn’t be successful at the bars, I never am, but I would be busy. I wouldn’t like the shitty hardcore concerts, but I would be somewhere. My ankle is fucked and I can’t skate well, but at least when I’m on the board, I’m moving. Now, the bus ride has paid off. The alcohol didn’t need to come in to the equation any further, thank goodness. I was getting antsy.
Oh, they tell me of a home where my friends have gone. Oh, they tell me of that land far away — where the tree of life in eternal bloom sheds its fragrance through the unclouded day… Oh, the land of a cloudless sky.
The idea was the call and the job would make me feel like I was on the board, or on the late night errand, or in between the beer and the vodka tonics. It did, and it has, to an extent. I was moving up until a split moment.
I loved college in a strange way; I hated the experience but loved the things I did. The one thing I’ll always miss, and I feel the loss pulling at me deep in my bones, even as I write this-- actually, especially bad I write this-- is the loss of my nights. I don’t mean nights in the abstract, or nights I did something. I mean the nights that felt like the belonged to me: nights where I just felt comfortable, where I was outside, and where I was with friends. They all happened on the porch of my fraternity house: sometimes it was with a lot of people, sometimes it was with one person. It didn’t matter: it was about quality of company, quality of the weather, and soaking in the rays from the streetlights. It was about sitting in the dead quiet, looking at the closed businesses, dark dorms, and sleepinf houses, and feeling, for a brief second, as if you were simply painted into a portrait, just a minor figure at the base of a mural of quiet, city life. My heart is beating thinking about it: I feel the cool air on my arms. I hear the quiet. I see the yellow lights stationed above 22nd Street. I feel complete in it; the memory is so fresh, so with me right now, that I don’t feel it’s absence anymore.
Tonight, after dark, on the porch of my parent’s home, I did: I sat outside, looked at the trees, and felt my pain. The air was right, the light was wrong. There was no company ! I was alone. The image-- the beauty of the late nights on the porch with the people I care for so deeply, in the scene I’ve been painted in to so many times before — only became vivid and essential once it was absent . It was only there, on my porch, when I had inadvertently tried to bring back what I had that I realized what I had lost. I sat outside, and I thought of he image of what I no longer had, and I went back inside to take a shower. I needed the hot water; it soothed me, and warmed me inside. I needed it; I felt so cold. I felt pulled; the steam made the air heavy, and kept me down on the ground.