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.”
“But she’s nuts.”
“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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.