December 24, 2010

The Glossed Generation

We’ve never grown up, those around my age. A sickening number remains unmarried, childless. We do the same things day in and day out that we’ve done for the last 20 years. We’re stunted punks.

It was a Friday without plans. An ordinary Friday. So I texted Golden Boy to see if he wanted to get a little drink somewhere. I needed help on the novel I had started writing. A novel about surgeries. Semi-autobiographical, of course. But the book was already a mess. The problem was the beginning. I had written four beginnings. I’m not a natural writer. The words don’t flow on their own: I need to squeeze them out from the bitter end of a toothpaste tube. And I push those words around for an eternity until they start making sense. I’m also terrible at endings, especially ones in my life. I don’t know how to let go of people or cats and I can’t seem to end stories. Golden Boy was good at getting to the heart of story problems. I had met him at a writer’s retreat. We both were pretty lonely, yet we had collected hair-raising stories about love.

The place he wanted to meet — a tapas martini bar — was packed. We pressed our faces against the ceiling-high plate glass, staring in like two schoolboys yearning to be with the adults. Except we were the old ones and inside, inside the elegant, romantically lit petite restaurant, were the kids. Inside were the young, the stylishly aware, and with them their spending money. It was so different from when I haunted these streets with my pals after college, well before lounges, wine bars, the fancy cocktails, the martinis, the exquisite carpaccios, and the tapenades took charge of the nightlife spirit. We on the other hand, we had eaten corn dogs and pickled eggs; we had dined at Veselka. The New York renaissance hadn’t yet begun.

“Remember when bars were awful little dives?”

“The kind you’d see drunks at.”

“It was what you meant when you said bar.”

Bars contained pool tables, pitchers, jukeboxes. Small bags of potato chips fastened in columns behind the counter. The pickled eggs already mentioned. The little bowls of peanuts and pretzels. The trashed lavatories. The select group of men and women who parked themselves on the same bar stools every single night. No fancy cocktails, no ladies in high heels, no tapas.

“They’re so lucky now. They have no idea. They don’t have to contend with the old farts drinking themselves to death. They have great places to go to. There’s a real nightlife in New York.”

We found an Australian place on Elizabeth and ate fish and chips, Golden Boy with a beer and me with a wine. I have no idea how long I’ll be able to drink wine. Slowly, the reflux surgery is failing. At some point wine will hurt to drink, the way it hurt to drink before I got the surgeries.

“I don’t know whether to start at the beginning, before the first surgery when the troubles started, or when he’s just about to enter his fifth surgery and then do flashbacks. Or whether to start just as he’s getting rolled in and he thinks back to how it all began. I can also interleave all the surgeries somehow — a pastiche?”

“So, wait. This is a novel?”

I think I should just let Golden Boy write it.

“Oh, there’s someone I want you to meet,” Golden Boy said. “I think you’d like her.”

“Really?”

“But she’s nuts.”

“Oh. Thanks.”

“No, you’d really like her. She’s just certifiable. I mean she really needs help. But she’s fun.”

“I’m looking for a wife.”

“She’s at some bar now with some friends.”

“Oh, okay. Let’s go. A bar or a bar bar?”

“The Parkside.”

“Ah, old school.”

So we met Golden Boy’s friend, Carly, and some of her friends. One of them was a young woman going with a man twice her age.

“Her boyfriend,” said Carly. “It’s serious.”

This looked promising. Carly — curls of black hair, a sharp tongue, the mouth of a vampire — took swigs out of a bottle of wine she periodically sneaked out of her bag.

“Three dollar rosé I got at a deli. Want a sip?”

It was disgusting.

“It’s disgusting, right? I mean, it’s completely nast.”

“But why?”

“I’m broke. I don’t want to buy drinks here.”

Parkside was the kind of place where if you couldn’t afford a drink, you had bigger problems than not being able to afford a drink.

“For the love of god, I’ll buy you something, Carly.”

“Okay.”

The point of this story isn’t that I met Carly, fell in love with her, and carried on a long affair that resulted in love children and marriage. No. The only thing about Carly that interested me was where she got her weed, which blew our minds when we smoked some of it around the corner. When we got back, we started our own private dance party. The point of this story is how my generation still hasn’t grown up. Basically, we’re losers.

Somehow the three of us ended up at my place, which was not so far away. Carly had finished her bottle of rosé on the street, tossing it into a garbage can after taking one last pull with her mouth. Nast. When we got to my apartment, Carly — who actually teaches English as an adjunct professor — immediately walked up to my bookshelf.

“Those books, are they real?”

“Of course they’re real.”

“Well, did you read them all?”

“Most of them.”

Carly then lay on the rug, and held her head.

“Oy, three dollar rosé.”

Golden Boy started talking excitedly. “Brownies, David. Let’s make some brownies.”

“Brownies?”

Brownies.”

“I don’t have brownie stuff.”

“Popcorn? Make some popcorn. I know you have that. The fiber.”

I made popcorn. Then Golden Boy insisted on butter, so he burned half a stick in a pan. Most of the popcorn ended up on the floor. Carly dragged herself to the bathroom and vomited.

“Okay, you all. You should all leave now. Really. It’s late.”

Golden Boy helped Carly up. She clung to him as he guided her to the door.

“You should call her,” he whispered to me. “Call her and make a date.”

Carly still looked pretty, despite the ravagements of the evening. She was smart, too. Well educated. During brief moments of mutual lucidity, we had interesting conversations. Her hair — it was curly the way I liked it. I wanted to say something, but I wasn’t sure what. I knew that a few years earlier I would have done what I could to keep Carly here. I didn’t say anything and the two of them went out into the 2am night of a city that was beginning to lose its bearings.

December 22, 2010

There For Me

Those impossible-to-imagine encounters when they actually happen, they feel like destiny. No one will believe you when you tell the story. Also, no one will care, because in the scheme of things, it’s a tiny, insignificant moment to the rest of the world, but to you, to you it makes your heart explode.

There was sweet Becky who loved me, but was bad at loving, worse even than me. She had no feel for it. She was an awkward — awkward was her favorite word — woman whose boldest expression came at age 19 on a bench in some Israeli town where she made out with an Arab boy she had just met. Otherwise, diffident, insecure, passive. She laughed easily but with a lot of sadness. Social events required sweaty work; they exhausted her. We hacked at it for two years before she had enough of my vacillating and called it quits. It was only then — when she left me — that I thought I might love her.

“It’s too late for that,” she said. But I still called until she stopped answering the phone. I carried around a memory of Becky smiling proudly when I told her about my friend who had commented on her “nice rack.”

Years later, there was a Katie, a 6‑foot‑1 Nigerian goddess. How she became a Katie, I don’t know. She went after me on an online dating site for a reason I couldn’t fathom. She thought Jerry Seinfeld was cute, so maybe she had a thing for Jewboys. On our first date she dragged me all over town. Fancy Asian lounges, dive bars, Irish pubs. At a quiet martini lounge, we were seated next to a fireplace.

“It’s so boring here. So quiet. Let’s go somewhere else.”

An aneurysm in her twenties had left her blind in one eye after a neurosurgeon got to work on it.

A cab. A long trip uptown. A lounge called Diamond. I had never heard of it. Katie thought there might be dancing there. But there wasn’t any dancing there. The crowd looked young, though, but it was hard to tell because it was so dark.

“Let’s sit at the bar,” she commanded.

But there was little room. We saw free seats on either side of a woman sitting by herself. Katie — brassy, forward– tapped the woman on the shoulder.

“Can you move so we can have two seats together?”

The woman turned, already nodding, acquiescing. Katie had her way with people; it was difficult to say no to her. I hadn’t said no all night; I didn’t know how. And what was I doing all the way up here? This was near my mother’s country. Tall buildings, glass, and hard angles. The west sixties. The bedroom community of Midtown and Wall Street.

“Sure,” said the woman, fully turned around now. “I’m just leaving.”

Her face, it looked familiar. Something. The smile that was a frown. The automated resignation. The nice rack.

Not since before my surgeries had I seen Becky. That’s how things were now. There was everything that came before surgery and everything that came after. Becky was before the first one. The Croatian came after it, and Clarissa after the second surgery, the one in Minnesota.

Becky and I had never strayed above 14th street when we went out. We both were too lazy to abandon the precincts of our downtown hovels and simply had no business beyond that border. Once, though, Becky had come uptown to my mom’s for dinner. My mother was taken by Becky. She had called Becky’s neck “aristocratic.” After that I saw it as aristocratic, too.

“What are you doing up here?” I asked a little too quickly, with a kind of sharp probe that could be mistaken for hostility. And I wasn’t even sure yet whether to be hostile or not.

“Oh, I just had an online date here, that’s all.”

Katie wasn’t liking this. “I have to go tinkle.” Sometimes she said “tinkle,” sometimes she said “loo.”

“I’m leaving now,” Becky said when Katie was gone. “She’s beautiful.”

Becky was standing. She moved in the direction of the door but now stopped and faced me. I had little time before Katie came back. I had things to say, things I had carried around for years now.

“Where were you?” I said. I was too loud. “When I was in the hospital, where were you?”

“We weren’t dating then,” she said.

“So what? I would have been there for you. You weren’t there for me. I called you.”

“But we weren’t dating any more.”

Here it was again. My Achilles heal. Loss. Someone told me once that women were much better at loss than men.

“You look good,” I said desperately. “You seem good. You seem happy.”

“You just called me too much.”

“I needed you there.”

“It wasn’t realistic.”

“I would be there for you no matter what. That’s what happens when you’re with someone for two years. It’s that important.”

“No.”

My friend had explained it to me. “For us, we pull off the band-aid. We move on. We never look back. It’s like it never happened. We don’t even like you anymore. Men? Men can’t deal with loss. That’s why you’re so violent.”

“So when I’m dead,” I said to Becky in a gambit whose point I wasn’t even sure of, “you’re not going to come to my funeral, either? Because we’re not ‘dating’?”

Katie came back. Becky made a move for the door.

“Bye,” I said to Becky. “You should call me, maybe. I might be having another surgery.”

One day I will learn to forget, learn to move on. My past holds me in place like an anchor.

“Surgery?” asked Katie when we sat down. “What surgery?”