Friday, November 13, 2009

food and a beer

The lamp on my desk burns a low-wattage energy efficient bulb that barely cast a dim light across the keyboard. I don’t know if this saves me money or waste my time. I get up to turn on another lamp across from me, on a small bookshelf, one which has a reasonable amount of wattage and when on, brightens up the room in a pleasant yellow glow. I twist at its power switch and pause and look around, assessing the change the light has made. It is not too harsh, which is what I was afraid of. I feared it would burn into the quiet silence I had created. That it would conflict with the faint darkness of my small corner office. The little womb I had made. But it doesn’t. It warms the area a bit; a gentle shine hugs the room. I let this happen for a moment, and then I go back to my desk. Now I can write, I think.

But there is a hunger in me. And a thirst. I think of where I will go while staring at a blank word document. My window is open and a cold breeze pushes in and beneath my oversized sweater I feel chills upon my skin. It is cold out. I look outside my window and see car lights reflecting off the wet street. It rained earlier. In the reflections I see the noises of the city. The corner boys’ bullshitting in front of the bodega. The breaks wheezing under busses as they hit a red light. The neighbors calling to each other from across the street. A jetliner beating across the dark sky. I decide I need a beer and I need some food. I go to grab my jacket.

I catch one of the cats and lift him up and put my face next to his. His patience is thin and he pushes from me, annoyed. He lands on the couch and he sits and stares at me, into my eyes. Then he crawls from the couch to the floor and walks toward me and rubs his head along my shins and purrs. I put on my jacket and as I'm walking to the door he follows me and waits at my feet.

You aren’t going anywhere, I say to him.

The door rattles in the wind of the hallway before I even unlock it. There is a gap between the doorjamb and the door, and it has a good half-inch to sway if the wind hits it just right. So all day it rattles, like ghost fighting to get in. the kitties sit in front of it, hunched low to the ground, waiting for it to open. Its sort of cute, but creepy at the same time. I’m always afraid they know something I don’t. One day a ghost might just get in.

I make sure I have money in my pocket and I open the door and close it and lock it behind me. I sit and stare at the bottom of it, at the gap on the floor beneath the door, to see if his shadow moves. But there is nothing, at least nothing I can see, so I walk downstairs and out into the street. He’ll be in the same spot when I get back, this I’m sure of.

In the bodega a teenager wearing jeans that hang below his butt cheeks is waiting for a sandwich from the guy at the deli. I huge woman stands in front of the beer coolers, her size taking up the entire aisle, talking in whispers on her self phone and flipping aimlessly through the energy drinks. I say excuse me and squeeze pass her and she doesn’t notice even though our bodies scrubbed against one another’s in the tiny space we were afforded. It was almost intimate. I grab a beer and go to the counter, the huge girl on her cell phone now standing in front of the register eyeing the impulse buy candies. The teenager with the sagging pants tells the deli guy to hurry up, and to make sure there is no mayonnaise. The deli guy grumbles something none of us can understand and the register guy shoves the huge girls crap into a paper bag and takes the cash he hands her. He looks at it and frowns.

I’ll get you that other dollar later tonight, that’s just all the cash I got on me. You know imma come back! she says. She says all this while slightly tilting her phone below her lips and covering the mouthpiece with her palm, as if to spare her caller the inconvenience of hearing this particularly unpleasant exchange. The register guy sighs and waves her away and she goes back to her conversation and walks out.

The deli guy comes around and lays a sandwich on the counter, right next to where I placed my beer. The teenager with the sagging pants cuts in front of me and wordlessly puts a five dollar bill on the counter, grabs his sandwich, and leaves. The register guy shrugs at me as if to say, you should have been quicker, what can I do?

I walk across the street with my beer in a brown bag and head into the Caribbean food spot across from my apartment. The wind picks up and the awning in front of the $0.99 store flaps loudly. The guy that stands in front of it nods at me as I walk by and into the food joint.

I’m behind a woman who looks to be of grandmother age, but is probably a great grandmother knowing these kids today. The surveys the buffet spread of island treats. Jerk chicken wings. Barbecue wings. Fried chicken. Oxtail. Red beans and rice. Cornbread. Chicken stew and stewed chicken. Candied yams. Plantains. She looks over each dish as if she has never seen them before, as if she is studying ancient art in a museum, and the pieces are fascinating yet confusing to her and she is filled with so many questions.

She orders five different things and after each one she repeats what it is to the line cook. That’s Oxtail. The line cook nods. Those are stewed vegetables with cabbage. The line cook nods. That’s three pieces of cornbread. The line cook nods.

When she –the line cook— finally comes to me, I order some jerk wings and a large macaroni and cheese. It is a quick and simple decision. She bags my order up; I pay her and leave.

When I get up my stairs and open my door there he still is, this time she’s with him. The kitties. Her tail raises and puffs up in excitement. He jumps on the nearest platform and looks at me expectantly. I pet them both. Letting my hand sweep across their bodies but concentrating mostly on the head and ears. I put my food down and I go back to my computer. Again I feel that the additional lamp truly satisfies the mood of the room. I stare at the blank document I left. I wonder what I'm going to write. I think of my first sentence:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

slip of the tongue

There are things said that can never be unsaid. This is a universal certainty, and we have all heard them or said them. We have all been the perpetrators and victims of them. And usually they aren’t lies, they are the truth.

Sometimes the truth needs to be told. We need to tell the truth to either be honest with ourselves, or honest with someone else. We need to get these burdens off our chest, the secrets that sit in our stomach. The guilt that presses against our heart.

But sometimes we need to keep them to ourselves. Some truths should just remain untold. Sometimes, instead of telling someone you are in love with them, you should just take a drag from your cigarette. Sometimes, instead of telling someone they aren’t ever going to measure up to their expectations, you should just buy them a pint of beer. Sometimes we should just let honesty fester inside us, because honesty isn’t always a good thing. Honesty is just a way to balance out the lies we live off of. And most times, it’s those lies that keep us going.

I try to be honest with myself, but like everyone else, I have to maintain my delusions in order to survive. I have to have these fanciful thoughts, these romantic aspirations, these beautiful reveries, in order to move ahead in life. Without them I have nothing to look forward to, nothing to fool myself with, nothing to keep me running. They are like the oil in my engine, and without them I might break down.

But recently I’ve been on an honesty kick. It’s worked for a while, but last night it bit me on the ass. I told a girl how I felt for her. That my heart, my delicate, brittle heart, was bursting for her. And this was the wrong thing to say.

Because we had more than just romantic notions for one another, we were close. We were friends. We talked all the time. We played scrabble on line. We made jokes. We got each other’s jokes. We like the same TV shows. We like quiet silences.

Last night I should have been quiet. Silent. We would have enjoyed that more.

But I'm on an honesty kick. And I had to get it off my chest. So I told her. I told her. And I don’t know where it will take us. If I have ruined everything or not. But I told her because it is how I feel and I would rather her know now then in five years in a sappy letter that begins with “how have you and the kids been getting along?”

So yeah, I fucked up. And I don’t think she feels the same way. At least not how I feel. So where is our friendship now?

I fill the void of her, unconsciously, with other women, with alcohol, with my studies and writing and any pharmaceuticals I can get my hands on. But when all is said and done, and I sit alone and the truths of the world begin to sink inside the hollowness of my gut, it wasn’t cigarette smoke that filled me up, it was her. So I told her.

And I shouldn’t have.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

hole in the holidays

It is hard to begin writing first thing in the morning. I’m not sure how writers do it. I heard Steven King would sit and write five pages every morning, that Emily Dickenson would take two hours every afternoon, and that the Great Russian writers would complete ten or more pages a day. I have to admire this.

But I wonder if this made them any better of writers, or if this just instilled in them a practice and discipline that prepared them to complete the novels they’d write, and we would read, to this very day. I do know that when I write regularly, every day or every night or even just when I find the time during the afternoon, that the words come easier when I actually do have to sit down and start or complete a piece of work that’s not just a meandering of thoughts and phrases.

Either way as I sit here this morning, with the heaviness of sleep still weighing on my bones and muscles, with my mind a swirl of half formed thoughts and my heart a blend of stillborn sensations, the only words I can think of typing are the words that ask, just why am I even typing right now?

Is this considered exercise? Is this considered practice? Is this the equivalent of waking up and running a five k every morning, in preparation to run a marathon someday? Is this the same as doing drills all week so that I may be ready for the big game on Sunday? I suppose I will never know, and the biggest benefit ill get from writing as much and as often as I can is that I will eventually acquire a body of pages that go nowhere and say nothing but have the words I’ve written and with that I will have the proof I tried.

Because truthfully, even though I have all the stories inside me, even though I have the experience and the desire for experience, that drives me and keep me breathing, the burden of documenting that which is in my heart and head sometimes paralyses my imagination and creativity, so instead I drink and sit and stare and then I sleep and wake up with the bitter dissatisfaction of an unaccomplished existence. I suppose that too, keeps me going. Because contentment means it’s all over.

We have the holidays coming up and once again I have no plans. My ex-girlfriend was supposed to come and stay with me for a week but I began to feel stressed and burdened by her visit, unsure if we were on the same page of the relationship, so I called and spoke to her and even though the conversation was painful (sometimes the truth hurts) it opened us up to a reality we were too naïve to face. Now she will only stay a few days and will be gone before thanksgiving. And once again I have no plans for the holidays.

I’m not whining or sad about it, but it does leave a void in my calendar on that particular day of celebration. I guess there are plenty of people that have no where to go during the holidays, and I suppose I will be invited to a few different dinners where I will only know a few of the people and pick at my plate and remain largely quiet the entire night. On the other hand, I could get a few drinks in me and become a source of jovial distraction, a meaningless clown full of nerves and old jokes. Commanding attention, sucking at the eyes of all those around me. But that doesn’t sound fun. It sounds sad and lonely, to tell the truth.

We’ll see. We’ll see. This aint nothing but a young adult life. And like everything else, it will pass.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

strange dreams and plans

Before I had the dream I had woken in the middle of the night. It was five am and the sky was still black. The only light came from the electric dim of streetlamps, faintly pressed against my windows. My eyes opened in a start, a crushing weight on my chest and heart. There was a confusion of feeling inside me. A sad stress and woe. I got up from the bed trying to figure out what it was that had woken me, and what it was I was feeling. I went to the couch and smoked a cigarette in the dark, a profound loneliness choking at my throat. Then I went to bed again, unsure if I would be able to sleep. I did. Then I had the dream.

I was in San Francisco in a large house. I wasn’t alone, there were five or six others, all my age give or take a few years. And there were two counselors, both with graying beards and smiles that hid a dark menace behind them. One of the counselors was an old English professor I had. The other a man I didn’t recognize.

It didn’t take me long to realize I was not just in a house, but an institution of sorts. And I wasn’t a guess or resident so much as I was an inmate. I figured this out not by asking questions but by observing how the others acted. They had the slow and delicate movements of one who is burdened by policies and regulations. Afraid to move freely for fear of breaking a rule. I don’t know why I was there or how I got there, I only knew that I needed to get out.

The house its self was humongous, a monster of four stories and filled with an uncountable number of rooms. It was surrounded by a large green lawn, at least two football fields length on every side. There were trees as well, and pockets of shrubbery. There was also a pond that had fish in it. I never saw this pond but I knew it was there. Tall white walls concealed us in.

The curious thing was that not only did I recognize my old professor as one of the counselors, but two of my fellow inmates were famous rappers. Ghostface and Method Man. There was another young man I never saw, and a couple more I didn’t know, and there was a girl. From what I gathered the girl had gone to law school and had done some service under the law as a public defender. This I learned from my fellow inmates when I inquired about her. She had not practiced that long before she was sent to the house, against her will of course, and I no one knew just why she was there.

She wore red sweatpants and a ponytail; she had olive skin and a pretty face that was hidden behind a shy quiet and a deathly fear of her surroundings. We never spoke, her and I, and only twice in the dream did I see her. Once as she sat rocking silently in a corner, and once as she was scurrying away like a frightened kitten.

At some point we must have gone on a field trip of sorts, because we wound up at a bar and in that bar I got into a fistfight. The fight itself I don’t recall, only that because of the fight I was arrested, and that at the police station I was let go —into the custody of the house— and given a court date from which to return. That’s when I got my plan.

I cant say how the plan came to me, dreams have blank spaces in them that the woken must fill themselves, but I was confident that it would work. I was going to escape. Here is how I would do it:

At the court date I would use the girl in the red sweatpants as my attorney. In the strange logic of dreams, I was sure she would be able to successfully defend me and I would be found not guilty. As I was exiting the courthouse I would make my getaway. My plan was simple, I would run. And I made a promise to myself to take the girl with me.

My plan was not without its flaws. There was the chance that the girl would not be able to get me off, not to mention the possibility that I would be caught while running away even if she did, but it was the only way I could see breaking free, so I had to give it a shot.

When I explained this plan to Ghostface and Method man, as we sat in small uncomfortable chairs in a recreation room that was large and empty and devoid of any actual recreation, they both breathed deep sighs and wished me the best. Ghostface in particular, was excited for me, and encouraged me to carry it out. He put his arm around my shoulder and led me to one of the many windows and he pointed out further than the lawn and beyond the tall white walls and into the city. He said, You gotta go for it son, you gotta go for your freedom.

Method Man just stared at the floor, stricken with apprehension and fear, and said, be careful man, it might not work.

It’ll work, I said.

The biggest hurdle would be convincing the girl to defend me. I could tell she was afraid to practice law, afraid to speak in front of a judge, afraid to disturb the order from which she was confined. It would take some encouragement. I would have to build up her confidence. But I was sure it could be done.

We had to take mandatory walks around the grounds, chaperoned by the counselors and dreaded by the inmates. We were told we had to appreciate nature, and all of us wanted to, but the circumstances prevented us from really enjoying the walks. We would circle the house, exploring the grass and the trees and the bushes along the wall, whispering to each other our complaints and trials. It was on one of these walks that Ghostface told me I should just run right then. Go for it, he said, now’s your chance. But I didn’t want to, I wanted the girl to defend me. I wanted to escape with her. I thought my plan was the only way.

It was then I woke. My dream never made it to the courthouse. I never figured out why we were all so afraid of the counselors. I never discovered what the punishment would be for breaking the rules. I never got to carry out my plan. And in the morning, as I climbed from bed again, I still felt that dread, that sadness and stress, the profound loneliness I had woken with just hours before. I do not know how to interpret dreams, so I didn’t try. But I remembered this one vividly, so decided to write it down.
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:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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