Don’t tell my boss but I was on a delivery and a pop song came on the radio that I used to play on repeat when I was 10-years-old so I rode around the small streets of my hometown searching for the ghosts of the kids we used to be. I’m in father’s beat up Volvo and the soft tires roll around endlessly after every stop sign and red light. Both up and down Dickens, Palmer, Bloomingdale. The streets of my childhood. My old house across from the blue and green park that I spent so many May afternoons with the neighbors across the street. I had a crush on a girl named Allison Padiak who lived in a tall baby blue house four doors down and she was the first love of my life. I was six years old. So impressionable and such a damn fool. I wonder where she is today. She had dark red hair and if my memory serves me right she always wore a blue and white striped sundress and that’s what she’ll forever be in my head – a little girl with a big future, as big as she could ever dream it to be.
So I drive by her house and see her playing with a hoola-hoop on her front lawn while her parents look on and wave at my car at the faceless driver. I smile back and wish nothing but love and sweetness for their little daughter. Then I pass my old house and try to recollect a memory other than leaving it. I can’t so I move sadly on down the street.
I make more turns and find myself on the street that meets a row of small houses and the mighty golf course that sits in the middle of our town and acts as our only secret. Everything else is known around town except the exclusivity of this golf club. Caddies know – so do valet parkers and members – but other than that and especially for me what lies behind those trees is unknown and probably will always be. The only experience I have is smacking golf balls with aluminum bats from hundreds of yards away with my baseball buddies into the course when we were young and dumb enough to do something like that.
So I ride down the street and look over out of the passenger side window and there I am on the sidewalk siting on Zach’s handlebars racing wildly toward another adolescent adventure. My best friend and I, free from school or a job or worries or insecurities or even a curfew. We were boys of the night, only to be stopped by the brakes of our bikes and the occasional little girl who smiled at us in the hallways. His hands gripped tightly over the grips and me smiling giddy and purely open to the world. The world was so small then. It was just the town’s perimeters and anything beyond wasn’t bothered with because all we needed was right here; we needed a few dollars for junk food at the gas station, a whiffle ball or two and air filled up in our tires so they would take us as far as the darkness on the edge of town.
We start to speed up, ignoring all stop signs and old ladies so I try to keep up in the Volvo as best as I can. Zach’s Yankee baseball cap bouncing softly on his head and my little legs dangle just above the front tire, shoes unlaced and socks dirty as hell. Our faces are young and tight, our eagerness bright and alive. We’ve never felt tired in our whole lives up until this point and wouldn’t feel it till high school baseball practice or basketball suicides in middle school. But today, right then and there on the sidewalk you wouldn’t have guessed we ever stressed about anything in our whole damn lives. Now Zach’s laughing and I’m laughing and I hold my gut with one hand and hold on for dear life with the other and he speeds in front of a station wagon coming off of Cortland Ave. that nearly takes us out but I’ve never felt nervous with Zach ever so I don’t even turn my eyes to the car that could have killed us. We just laugh and yell into the wind as the driver screams and grips his fists tight in the air and says something like “Hey you goddamn kids better watch yourself you outghta get killed out here on the street riding around like that” but we pay no mind at all and race towards another day in the life of two best friends.
We make a hard right into an alley but when I turn with the car we’re long gone, black specs in the gray November night. I put my foot on the brake and take my hands off the wheel. Where has it all gone? Where have our bike-riding wild-nighted no-caring blissfully young and heartskipping days gone?
Instead of taking her to dinner or the movies, take her to a park. Take a walk with her down 1st Ave. and walk in silence. Hold her arm in yours and stare out into the streetlights in front of you. Glance up at the buildings as you slowly pass them.
Turn into the park’s gates and point to a bench to a sit. Wait for her to nod in agreement. Let her sit first. Unbutton your jacket and sit close to her. Feel the warmth of her in November. Let her rest her head on your shoulder. Hold her hand and put it your coat’s pocket. Put your right hand on her knee and feel her soft skin underneath her black tights. Let her hair tickle your cheek as she rests soundly at your side. Sit in silence. Just watch.
Watch the fountain jump with excitement, the old German man push his stroller by himself, the old couple stroll their way to the bench across from yours, the kids run back and forth from the ice rink’s entrance, the dogs walking slowly but surely. Watch the trees sway slowly in the wind, the yellow leaves bristle and whistle in the cold, the brown trees strong and steady. Run your thumb up and down her thigh, make her feel warm, squeeze her fingers tightly with yours, glance at her lips and make sure they’re pursed and sweet just as you first met them. Sit in silence.
Feel the coldness of winter rush up and down your body and hold her closer. Feel her. Don’t talk. Just sit in the silence of comfortable companionship. Don’t take her to a crowded restaurant or a dark movie theater. Take her to a park and watch the winter glide past you in an eternal dance with time.
Helen Claire Davis. That was her name. I had met her outside of a basement bar down on 14th street smoking a cigarette and two hours later I was in her apartment. It was just one of those nights. She was drunk, so was I. I was lonely, couldn’t tell if she really was but she seemed interested enough to humor me and let me hold her hand while we walked down the streets of Manhattan by ourselves. Our group was a about a block ahead. We stopped a few times to laugh and kiss under the street lamps enough times to lose the five other people we were with completely. We didn’t care too much; at least I didn’t.
She was going apple picking the next day somewhere upstate for her friend’s birthday. I told her I never had any damn plans on Saturdays and have kept it that way ever since I was 11-years-old. She smiled at my misguidance and freeness. She didn’t know how alone I really was – neither did I. But I wasn’t tonight and that’s all that mattered.
She was Australian. A soft tender voice. That accent. I was hooked from the first time she said her name. I mumbled my own and asked her if “you guys” really hate New Zealanders. Ridiculous stuff like that. I was a fool and she was the gatekeeper, the key holder, the fate bearer and all the other rulers of my night. She became my night. I was enveloped by her and lusted after her around every corner street deli and liquor store. We were drunk so we got a cab.
We had direction problems with our driver who was already annoyed by us and so was I. I had to piss so bad that my stomach began to ache. I felt my bladder beat. We got out on a street in Green Point and I ran to her building’s front door with my torso hunched over my waist paying no mind at all to the doorman who assumed I was a crazy hobo who had just been stabbed with a dull blade. I had never had to piss this bad in my whole life. She was on the second floor of a seven-flat and had a beautiful wide-open studio apartment all to herself. Picture a New York City apartment and this was it. You walked in and a tiny kitchen waited for on the right, a long hallway led to the wide open room with a big bed shoved in the corner, a large table full of magazines, bills and other lousy and no good papers spilled everywhere in every direction; a perfect mess. Clear windows with fingerprints covered an entire wall that looked down on the street. The street’s noises came up to us fast and loud, bars still energetic, streetwalkers yelled and screamed for no one, cars honking and cabs flying around barely missing parked cars as they whizzed by; everything in the apartment was still. Then there was a piano, a grand and impressive pitch black, worn white keys, sheet music all around the top. I asked her if she plays. She did. I asked her if she would play. She would.
I slumped down on the couch next to the window across from the piano. She sat down with her back facing me, blonde hair glowing from the reflection of the streetlights. I took a mental image – a picture – of all that was happening: The soft brown lights coming through the window, (the streets now quiet) the candles that she just lit – three of them on the table piled on top of the magazines – the bed unmade, the plants that were dying because she didn’t have time to keep up with them these days, the endless amount of books on the shelves to her right (have you read them all? Just about), the warm sweater she wore, her soft legs crossed under the piano, toes on the pedals, my jacket on the couch next to me, boots being slipped off; and I sat there and remembered it all with open eyes and an open soul. Free to everything that happens in life.
Then she began to play and the rest was lost to the music of the night.
Bob Dylan. That’s what I am tonight. Who I am I should say. Black blazer, black jeans, a dark gray thrifted shirt buttoned up to the neck, dark wayfarers, wild hair and a steel wired harmonica holder around my wiry neck. No harmonica, Mom forgot to send it.
Halloween. October’s last night. All Hallows’ Eve.
The plan tonight is to go down to the Lower East Side and check out bars down in that part of town. Gennette, my roommate, and I are heading down there and meet up with some of her friends once we get off the train. Fine by me. Let’s get to it.
We search for the bar on the late-evening street and find her two friends all the way in back sitting on stools, Sam – a self-proclaimed rapper from Seattle – and Danny – a smart young kid from the same parts of town – all Washington bred kids here in the big city of the world. So we sit and chat and have a few rounds of drinks and decide to wander around for a new crowd, there’s bound to be another crowd right around the corner, every corner of the city has new crowd waiting for new folks to come on in, sit down and yip-yap about anything they damn well please. Please, come in. Have a seat. Drink this. Good huh? That’ll be eight dollars sir. And would you tip, too? Please? See I only make… And I would really appreciate…
After the first two bars in the East Village we walk down W4th St. till our legs can’t take it anymore. What we’re looking for I can’t exactly say. Another bar? We were just at another bar. Girls? Booze? Music? We wander around like ghosts. None of us are dressed as one this year, but if anyone would have caught us on the street here they would have said, “Yup, a ghost. A drunk fool of a ghost.”
We ask ourselves those questions and decide booze. We drag our feet out of a dingy bar across the street into a liquor store and buy big bottles of beers. Three of ‘em for the four of us. The clerk stuffs them in brown bags and we go off like bums to find a street corner we could sip them on in peace. Parks are closed and bars need you to come empty handed with wallets full. Tonight being Halloween, there are hundreds of cops on the streets, all dressed in that slick navy blue uniform that looks so pristine and gorgeous in the soft lights of Washington Square Park. While looking for our corner we pass 30 of them huddled around outside of a deli with our open bottles spilling and clinking inside of our coat jackets. “Evening officers. How’s your night going officers?” like a few smartasses we smile and wave with our free hand and giggle over the curb just before we take a real nice swig from our Red Stripes.
When we get far enough away from the empty streets and busy sidewalks we post up on the steps of an old brown brick building and start to pass around the bottles in a circle and slug our beers nice and slow in the comfort of our own pace and the warmth of October. It was just about midnight. Another autumn month had come and gone.
It’s dark in our corner here – and I’m drunk – but I notice the earthy brown lights hanging above us that make the green leaves of the trees look spooky and haunted, just like the rest of the night. The lights above the street dimming in and out of focus to a point where I can’t tell if it’s my eyes playing the tricks or the mad twisted streets of the city. The lights buzzing louder than our conversations. Cool kids in leather jacket pass us on the sidewalks, shooting us looks out of the corners of their evil eyes only because we had booze and they didn’t. The last drops of our bottles start to drain and we lick our lips with pleasure and joy and it’s off to the next bar.
We cozy up to some nameless main street joint that only accepts cash. I’m in no such luck so I sit down and dig the kid Danny who’s been whispering quietly all night and nodding his head yes, yes at mostly everything. He’s a real sharp kid with a shaved head and a short beard. Red hair if I was going to give it a color. He talks quick and certain and blinks his eyes when he gets excited; sometimes he blinks seven, eight times before he finishes a sentence. He’s drunk now too but his mind is ever-present and he yaps at me for a good half hour – just sitting there with a goofy smile blinking his ass off all night.
Before we catch a cab ride home, (now it’s four in the morning and all the bars are still lit up and the shelves stocked and the girls still pretty even after their makeup has started to run and the music still plays over the muffled speakers and endless conversations starting and going all night long and into these quite and hollow morning streets) I bum a cigarette from some cat waiting outside at the bus station. What’s a Bob Dylan costume if you’re not gonna have a smoke by the end of the night. I hand the last bit off to Sam before we jump in the cab and head home to Brooklyn.
Now this drive home I remember perfectly clear like June afternoons on Saturdays when I was nine years old with my dad and my brother. At 4 a.m., it’s not dark out because the whole island of Manhattan glows like a Christmas tree, but driving away it’s dark enough still where I could close my eyes and fall asleep forever. I stay awake from the buzzing streets and the bumps in the concrete as we make our way across and over the Brooklyn Bridge. Gennette and Sam are talking about friends back home in Seattle but I pay no attention to them whatsoever, for my eyes are fixed on the gray road as if it was my first night drive of my whole damn life. I no longer feel tired. My legs no longer weary from walking around the city at night. The cruel night. I stick my head out of the window like dogs do or the young actor in the new Hollywood film does and breathe in the early morning air with a clear head for the first time in months. The icy breeze stabs at the pores in my face and my hair whips wildly without a sound. I have no other choice but to look out at the East River and watch splendidly as we fly by cars on this historic steel bridge. I turn around and watch the island’s lights fade into November. I smile at all the beauty in life. Laughing even. Giddy and wonderful. I start to think of my life: I think of summers in Minnesota, hot dry springs on baseball diamonds, winters huddled inside my living room, all the girls I got to kiss in middle school. I think of all of my friends back at home and back at school. How happy I am that they are all a part of my life. I think of my parents, the two people responsible of my wonderful life. How did I get here? How did this happen? I don’t think long enough to answer because now I feel as if I’m flying over the bridge.
This is probably how Superman feels when he flies.
But what do I know? I was just a kid from Chicago who got drunk on bottles of beer, having the time of his life.
We stayed up on the rooftop for a bit and I met a sweet girl named Betty from Richmond, Virginia. She had ruby red hair and soft white skin but more about her later.
We all hung out some more both up on the roof and back in the loft until some of the girls decided we better head into midtown before traffic gets bad. It was midnight by this time so we said our farewells to the hosts and busted down the street to hail a cab. Here I was with six people I had just met a few hours before, stumbling around the streets of Brooklyn without a seeming care in the whole wide world; just laughing and yelling into the chilly night – off for another adventure -
We crammed into a cab and I had to have a blonde girl named Katie sit on my lap for the ride – something I didn’t mind in the slightest. She was a real cute girl but I made sure not to start any funny business because she was my cousin’s roommate and didn’t want ruffle any feathers so I kept to myself and flirted with every girl equally.
We rode through the city on our way to the East Village and I gazed out of the countless conversations that floated through the cab and steered my eyes outside at the bright lights of the city and took a moment to reflect once again. All of a sudden I was in a movie – me playing the new kid in town, a cowboy, and the others an intricate part of my story as a whole – and me in theirs. I looked out the window and watched people spill in and out of bars and late-night burger joints and couldn’t help but smile. I looked around the cab and saw faces that I’d probably never see again after tonight and I was strangely fine with that. The girl up front started to doze off and stopped giving direction to our driver entirely and the rest of the backseat screamed and giggled at their sleeping friend and I just smiled along. Along for the ride.
When we got to the bar I got a beer and tried my hardest to stay off the tabletops where all the twenty-somethings were dancing and goofing but Katie eventually pulled me up and that’s where we all spent the next hour or so; on top of a dark wooden table dancing and stomping to loud, overbearing music before I said my farewells and ducked out of the bar all myself.
I kicked around some garbage on my way to the subway station and dialed my sister back at home. She was having all of our friends over and I wanted nothing more than to be with them tonight. I walked past dark rooms with dimmed lights that hid the faces of models and more pretty New Your City vandals while my sister’s voice guided me all the way to my stop and filling me in on all of the hoopla that was going on back in our Midwestern city we call home. It was a long day. A good one indeed. And it ended how it began; alone in bed with my wool blanket held tight under my arms and dreams of more and more people I would soon meet and drink beers with. And maybe dance on a tabletop or two.
The following is from author, poet, novelist and all-around wordsmith, Charles Bukowski:
"For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our education system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us."
For me personally, I’ve always struggled and wrestled with the idea of God. I wasn’t religious growing up. Nor were my parents or my siblings during our upbringing. I had no substantial connection to the Irish-Catholic faith that I was brought up in. I went to Saturday CCD classes that were looked at as more of a drag than an enlightenment into a field I was ignorantly oblivious to. “Hell,” I thought, “I could be playing whiffle ball with the guys instead of this.” The classes lasted up until 8th grade and then I stopped going. No graduation or ceremony. No formal goodbye or farewell. No parade or dance. One year I was signed up and the next I wasn’t. I was fine with it. Didn’t think much of it in fact.
Now a young man in college with the intelligence, resources and capacity for thoughts about feelings or powers higher than myself, I see religion and God as answers to questions I would prefer to be shrouded in mystery till my very last breath. As ignorant and selfish as it may sound, I don’t want that help to guide me to life’s insolvable quandaries. I don’t feel the need to use those outlets as a light in the tunnel of life. I’d rather go in pitch dark, reckless and scared as all hell.
It is my choice to live this way. It is my choice to unlearn all the rules and regulations that have been set to keep me in tuned to a systematic, responsible and cooperative society only to play a part in it all. I don’t want to be a “part of society.” I want to be a human explorer of the world. Doesn’t that sound more adventurous? More fulfilling? More enticing? Sexier? I want to go out into the dark world and discover my own answers through my own experiences. I want to feel love with my heart and feel the earth with the tips of my jagged fingers. I want scars on my body that I could be proud of.
In my understanding of it, religion seems to give people a purpose. Which is a beautiful, warm and welcoming idea. I, being a bit of an existentialist, believe I have been given no purpose at all. When I was born, I was given only a brain to think, a heart that beats and some bones in my skin. And with what was given to me, it is my life’s wildest adventure to go out and find my own purpose. My own sacred reason to live. My own religion.
And after that, it’s Death. Notice how Bukowski capitalizes the first letter in Death. It is the always-prominent and most powerful aspect of life. How brutally ironic. It’s almost crippling to our very human nature to look at Death with such fear and animosity. Death. It’s the only thing we could all ever amount to.
I want to live my life in a constant pursuit of the questions that my grandchildren will ask me when I’m on my deathbed:
"What’s this all for?"
"Why are we here?"
"What do we do when we realize why we’re here?"
"Who do we share our life with when we realize what we want to do?"
To which I will hopefully answer with all the wisdom, courage and faith I have in life, “Beats the hell out of me, kid. That’s for you find out yourself.”
And I would smile into their small, eager faces and smile out of life. Into forever.
I get off the subway stop on Myrtle Street and walk a few blocks over to Mike’s place. It’s a brand new building on the corner of Pulaski Street in a typical Brooklyn neighborhood. Kids are playing and shouting at the park across the street, bums and boozers hang out outside of side street pubs. Mike answers the door when I walk up and it’s great to see a familiar face. I make my way around the small hallways and meet his other friends. Katie. LaKell. Josh, etc. The place is done up in such a perfect little way from fall decorations on the wall to palm-sized light blubs hung all around the patio’s walls. It makes me feel warm and welcome.
I sip on the beers I bought and talk to a few guys outside about what I do and what they do. One is an app developer for Apple and the other works for an organization who helps surgeons from India and China stop driving taxis around the city and get them into hospitals where they belong. I tell them I just transcribed an interview with Kevin Hart the other day. They are less impressed with me as I am with them. A fair assessment.
Apple cider starts to get passed around and I begin to get drunk fast; as does everyone here who sips on the sweet drink because none of us bother to keep count of this delicious drink. We just keep slugging them back from mason jars and before you know it we’re all bending and swaying to the wind feeling good and fine. Boozed up.
After a while, we all go up to the roof just in time to catch the sunset dip down over Manhattan. I grab an old acoustic guitar that was hanging from the wall of one of the hallways hoping it was in tune and take off up the stairs buzzed as hell. All of us get up to the roof and watch the bright yellow sun clash with white clouds all across the state of New York. Beyond it, New Jersey and then Pennsylvania. I feel like we could see it all. The sky changes from a calm blue to a cotton candy of pink and diamond – spread out across the twilight of an October evening. I hold my breath a while and decide right then and there that life is nothing if not a gift and every time you decide to watch the sun set, you must always be thankful and gracious for one and can only hope for the same sun to rise in the morning. Because here I am in a strange city all alone with a few friends I’ve met in five short weeks on the east coast of America and there was the sunset, just as peaceful and alive as it’s always been.
And I held on to the guitar on my lap and sat down on the roof’s ledge and looked at all of the nameless faces standing upright staring into the sun and the sky. I was happy. I was grateful for life, for family and friends, for the grace and warmth of the sun and for the liquor that got me up here and down there so many times before.
I plucked the nylons of that old six-string and stared out into the clear sky and thought of all the city people in New York who were sharing the sunset with us. I played for them, sang for them and drank for them.
Here’s to them, whoever they are…
Just walked out of the corner store around the block from my apartment. Heading over to catch a 4 train in route to my cousin Mike’s place in Bushwick. He’s having a few people over for a housewarming party so it should be a swell time. Picked up a six-pack of beers from the corner store, that should hold me off until at least after dinner when we all decide whether or not to dig the bars late at night. I was just able to put a little dough in my pocket so I’m open to any kind of kicks we might run into.
It’s an absolutely gorgeous day today. A sky-blue sky hangs low and steady above Crown Heights this afternoon and the softness of a cool breeze rushes up onto the sidewalk from the busy streets of Eastern Parkway and Schenectady Ave. It’s the kind of autumn day you dream about before moving here. But the one thing I notice when I’m making this walk to the train station is that fall smells the same all across the country. From Seattle to Brooklyn, burnt orange leaves rustle and whistle on the ground with the same delicacy and midday sidewalks shimmer the same glint of evening showers from the dark night before. Kids sound the same; calling their mothers, yelling at brothers or sisters, bellowing and screaming every which way – up, down, sideways – until their little bellies can hardly let out another sound. Old ladies behind grocery carts move at the same slow, peaceful rate in St. Louis as they do in Oxford, Mississippi. Guardrails of porches look the same as they do with their mean steel holding together bricked steps with aunts and uncles hung around the dirty city streets. The tree trunks are just as big and strong as they are here on this street as they are out in the suburbs of Chicago – thick branches cling on to the last of the green leaves before they fall splendidly down and turn orange and brown, the color they’ll stay for the next few months. The next beautifully still autumn months.
All signs of autumn are now here for you to see. Look out your window or take a walk down to the park you used to play at when you were little and you’ll see ‘em. September. October November. Months of love, passion, joy and sweet sweet ecstasy. Fitzgerald was right when he said, “life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” And it’s the same sweetness you feel with that very new beginning all over America. Everywhere wide and far, life starts over in the fall…
The subway train rattles to a stop underneath the streets of Manhattan. I collect my things and walk off onto the platform in front of a rusted away staircase. I’m alone again, like most days here in New York. I don’t mind it. Actually prefer it to an extent.
For a month now I’ve been anonymous in a city where I can walk down the street and never be noticed. Never be identified. I just walk past faces of strangers, trading looks, sometimes smiles. Scanning the sidewalks for a glimpse of something I might recognize. Something that might call upon a certain familiarity. It hasn’t come yet.
So tonight I’m alone again and figure I can go sit in the Square and read from my book. It’s what I do most nights. I take the subway and drag my finger down a thin red line that maps out all of the transit stops and pick one. Randomly. Without any preconceived motive or desire. Tonight it’s 14th St. Union Sq.
It’s a beautiful part of the city. Hell, you can say that about every part of this city. Street performers carrying tribal drums and classical guitars inhabit the sidewalk where the tables selling fine china and posters of Marilyn Monroe have since cleared. Behind me, benches lurk in the shadows of oak trees planted in the park. Steel frames with painted wood. A dark green. Beyond the square are shops that are crowded even at the this time of night on a Sunday. Mothers pulling daughters. Fathers carrying sons. Strollers, handbags, shopping bags. A Bloomingdales, Macys, McDonalds. The Square is illuminated by a soft white light that reaches out from the shops’ windows onto the shiny grey concrete and all the way up to the tips of the trees.
I take a seat on the steps and set my bag down next to a couple. She’s a young blonde. In her twenties. He’s the same, darker hair. They just picked up vanilla ice cream cones from a street vendor. Sprinkles on hers. His is cloaked in a rich looking chocolate. No dessert reservations tonight; these steps will have to do.
A chilly night has her in a leather jacket and jet-black denim jeans. They gossip over their day and trade stories about mutual friends. They can’t believe so-and-so is still dating what’s-his-name. The usual chitchat. It isn’t until she finishes her cone when I realize just how long I’ve been watching them. Because that’s what I do on these nights: I watch people. I try to find something I could relate to. I come up with stories and backgrounds for people I’ll never meet. I let my imagination run wild while keeping it all to myself. A selfish game that I let no other people in on.
After she’s done, she pulls a small box from her jacket pocket. Marlboro Reds. She lifts one out of the package and lets it hang from her lips as her boyfriend lights her up. Old school. I can’t help but smile. She lets the first inhale sit in her lungs a long time. He holds his breath with hers. Now they’re in tune. In sync with each other. She blows a long, thin line of smoke and watches it disappear inches from her face. She takes a few more drags and flicks off the clinging ash from the tip. The orange ember on cold silver slab of stone.
A word. A giggle. Another drag.
Her eyes scan the park for nothing in particular.
It dangles in her finger ever so gently. She’s been smoking for years, you can tell by the way she enjoys it. Up to her red lips again. Another soft exhale. Nothing fancy, but she makes it look so elegant. Beautiful even. Now he’s staring at her just like I am. And if I were able to pull my eyes away from her I would bet there were a handful of other men staring at her smoke this cigarette down to its’ nimble end. He sneaks in a kiss before she crushes the butt on the heel of her boots. Jet-black.
Then they get up, collect their things and stumble into the lively New York night only as lovers can.
October 8, 2013 | Brooklyn, NY.
I’m holed up in my apartment tonight. Work has been fine and swell but not very exciting. It’s the usual work that you would expect an intern to be doing. I won’t say much about that because there ain’t so much to say about it.
I’m low on cash as I’ve been for a good month now. I nabbed a receptionist gig this Friday at a production company with the help of my roommate so it’ll be nice to put some money to my name instead of walking these lively New York City streets like some bum who could barely afford a cup of coffee and nothing else. I’ve always been a cheap bastard with my money but this city has put it at a whole new level. That money will be nice to have.
Tonight I went over to the liquor store after a quick reading and grabbed a six-pack of beers for the night. That’ll do me just fine. I didn’t get a chance to drink all weekend so it’s always nice to get a good buzz on before I hit the hay. Tonight it’s Budweiser, a Rolling Stone magazine and the original scroll of Kerouac’s classic, On the Road. My favorite novel of all time and here there is just about 150 more pages of the epic journey across the American land that had me jumping and giddy for a shot at that old road myself.
The other night I hopped on a train to Chelsea and checked out the apartment where Kerouac wrote the legendary tale. He holed himself in a room for three weeks straight in April of 1951 and wrote manically, stopping for short spurts of sleep and coffee only, and came out on the other end with a 120ft. scroll on an artist’s tapestry of paper. Spitting out his fiery fingers. Out of the typewriter like a machine. Mad like a machine. I stood outside the building of 454 W 20th street and stared into the dark windows feeling the energy of the whole place. The whole block. The whole city. Alive and vibrant in the early October air. I tried to feel his presence. I looked down the block and tried to see him and old Neal Cassady stumbling down the streets of the Village. Talking and rapping and jabbing each others ribs with their fingers and fists. Together; brothers of an American night. And here I was alone and a hundred miles away from home chasing ghosts of poets and travelers that came before me. I went off into the night sad as hell. New York can be a lonely place when you’re forced to navigate it by yourself. Sometimes you have to be guided by its greatest adventurers and predecessors.
So for now I’ll read the stories of writers who dug these streets years before me and can only wish to create some of my own. But tonight it’s beers, this old pocket notebook and lonely, hopeful dreams till the darkness puts me to sleep.
Whiskey is her drink.
I won’t say that’s why I love her, but it’s a damn good start.
I hunched over my pen and paper and she would come slip behind me and steal a swig from my glass, even when she had her own. We drank the good stuff on weekdays and the cheap stuff on weekends. Whiskey, water. Whiskey, water. Whiskey, water and repeat til we both went to sleep. Soundly. Thoughts in our head, sparse. Dreams, plenty.
I’d drink myself blind if it weren’t for her.
But whiskey is her drink. And she’s mine.
A little different post than what I usually do, but these tips are too good to pass up and not to share. These are a guide, a ship to sail on, a wall to paint on, and all together, something that you can read and immediately toss aside. Because writing is made from your own habits, opinions, successes and failures. It’s your duty as a writer to be disciplined enough and work hard enough to find your own rules and rituals so one day they’ll turn into “Tips on Writing from…”
John Steinbeck has written some of my favorite pieces of fiction I’ve ever read and am anxious to read the ones I haven’t had the chance to. His story is one similar to mine and I’m sure similar to a lot of people out there. With just the urge, excitement and ferocity in his bones, he wrote stories of his life and was a true documentarian of his times and an important voice (if not the most) of his generation. And I honestly find these tips incredibly useful and downright poetic. Take these tips as heavily or lightly as you wish.
1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
When we put his records on the turntable, she closes her eyes tight and just smiles; she doesn’t even sing or mouth the words. She stands in the middle of the room in her thick socks and just listens to his words and curls her lips into the sweetest smile I have ever seen. From the first notes that ring through the wide-open room till the last note is plucked, she smiles that smile that hooked me seven short years ago.
He’s a folk singer who sings about the hills in Colorado and the sun in San Francisco. I want to get in my truck and drive down all the roads he describes and through the mountaintops we dream about. I want to live inside his songs, but only if I could bring her along with me.
Hell, he even makes me want to take her to Idaho.
We’ve got a small cottage in the midst of the redwoods in Northern California. The music echoes out from the speakers and we slow dance in our living room, hand in hand, her head on my chest, slowly dancing while candles burn all around the room. Sometimes we take a trip out to the city and drink beers and dance in the bars downtown. Back in college no one danced like her. She’d have to yank me out of a stool to get me up there with her, but I always did after a few cold ones. Things have slowed down since then, but she’s still got it.
Our college days were a while back and a lot as changed since then. But some things haven’t changed, some never will.
I loved her then, spinning around on the dirty dance floors of Green Street, and I love her now. I always will.
I’m at a Greyhound station in rainy Nashville, Tennessee. It’s Monday afternoon and the boys just dropped me off. They took off for Chicago on a 9-hour ride through the middle of America. They got my bags and a case of beer out from the trunk and that was it. We said our goodbyes and they were on their way. But boy was it a hell of a weekend.
There’s something so sad about bus stations that I can’t quite put my finger on. People just seem worried, miserable and alone. Other than the old couple waiting for their 3:00 to Birmingham, all these people are lost souls, meandering through this rainy day until someone delightful enough comes and picks them off. Then they’ll be on their way onto another American city where troubles and heartbreak await them. Or love, who knows.
Before the guys dropped me off I saw my wife in a sandwich shop. Now here me out, I know it sounds crazy, but it damn well might be true. The worst part about it was that I didn’t say a word to her. I just stared. I stared at her gorgeous blue eyes and her blonde, flowing hair. It was knotted tightly in an imperfect braid that hung down to her shoulder blades. She wore a little black dress; of course it was a little black dress.
It was around 12:15 when she walked in. The moment I saw her I fell in love with her. Right there in my seat. And not the movie kind of love when you’re just attracted to someone love. The kind of love where it tugs and wrestles with your belly love. She ordered her food, a turkey with swiss, and then moved to the soda fountain. She playfully laughed and giggled with a little girl who only came up to her waist.
I had to have her.
She went and sat down at the other end of the shop and after 20 minutes of just daydreaming I got the courage to ask a woman sitting next to me for a pen. I scribbled down a note on a napkin that read something like…
I know this sounds insanely crazy and manic, but when you walked into this sandwich shop, I fell in love with you. I didn’t want you to go about your day without knowing that. -
I signed my name to it and walked over to give it to her but she was gone. I couldn’t find her anywhere. It made me sick. I felt this sense of insanity and depression rush over me. But what for? I didn’t know a thing about this girl other than she was beautiful beyond belief and that she got along with small children.
I eyed the room hoping to see her blue eyes shoot up at me but they didn’t. Only sad, daytime workers on lunch break with their blue cotton shirts tucked into their khaki pants. I wanted to die. I still do. I want to spend every Monday for the rest of my life in that sandwich shop until she walked in again. I’d wait there until I saw her legs creep inside the door and I would ask her to marry me, right then and there.
I can’t get her out of my head. She’s walking the lively streets of the music city and I’m here alone at this miserable bus station. I’ll be sad for days because of this, I know it. And that’s OK, because I deserve it. I don’t ever want to feel this type of regret again. That 20 minutes I waited was 20 minutes too long.
I just got on a train here in gloomy Decatur. I’m headed to the airport to catch a flight out of Atlanta to Chicago. It’s horribly cloudy out. Lightning bolts are reaching for the ground every 30 seconds with all the effort they can collect.
Amidst all the dark weather, I’m glowing. I’m coming home for the weekend. Finally.
Some of the boys are picking me up at the airport back in Chicago. After they grab me the plan is to head down to the city for the night and drink dollar beers at this real neat bar the guys have taken a liken to. We’ll shoot the breeze and swap stories of our summers all night til the owner kicks us out. And for once, I couldn’t care if we don’t talk to a single girl all night. A fine little thing could walk up to me in a sundress or tight blue jeans in the hazy lights of any pool hall in the whole city and I wouldn’t pay her any mind. I couldn’t wait to talk to the guys.
I want to see how their lives have been shaped, changed or otherwise in the past two months and learn what they have planned for the next two, three or six. I’ll fill them in on my life as much as possible but I want to hear from them most of all. Hopefully my brother will tag along tonight. I’ve missed that kid more than one of those hobos on Michigan Ave. misses his last fix.
I was writing this down in my pocket notebook when I almost missed my stop. A sweet older woman had noticed my bags and pegged me as a chump who didn’t know the rails he was moving on. Her silent assumption couldn’t have been more right.
“You want the Southbound,” she said assertively.
“Sorry?” I said as I lifted my pen from the paper.
“The airport is the last stop on the Southbound. This is Five Points sweetie. This here’s your stop. You’re gonna have to transfer here onto Southbound.”
“Oh, this is Five Points?” I responded as a herd of people trampled through the cart’s doors.
“Yes sweetie, hurry up now,” she said with the kindest southern drawl I had heard since I’d been down here in the hot sticky state of Georgia.
“Thank you so much,” I said as I hurled my bags over my shoulder. “You have a great day ma’am,” I mumbled with my pen held between my teeth. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome sweetie. Hurry up now. Southbound. Last stop.”
I tripped through the door and stumbled onto the platform as Georgians whizzed by in a hurry. I searched the signs that hung from the ceiling in a minor panic. I turned around to the window where the woman sat. Something about her face calmed me in a way only my own mother’s could.
She lifted a finger and pointed over my left shoulder with a small and delightful smile. I smiled back. It was as if she was pointing me all the way back to Chicago. All the way back home where my mother and friends were waiting.
I promised to myself that my first beer of the weekend would be for her. And every one after that.