Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Pffff...

Helotes, Texas. Jobsite for a million dollar New Yorker wedding reception.

It was fall in the Hill Country of Texas, warm. Seven large white canopied tents dotted the arid landscape surrounding the old Spanish Mission.

She was around 40, trashy chic. A ravaged urban desperado from New York City. The victim of some sort of psychic crime. Her hair was shocked and indifferent. A cigarette dangled out of the corner of her mouth. She wore a blouse, a few buttons open, braless. A large belt buckle was centered on her shining polyester pants tucked into knee high riding boots. Her face was round, yet angular, soft but with an edge, like a Picasso. When she spoke I had trouble understanding because of her thick foreign accent. "Where are you from," I asked, as she stepped into the shade of the tent, slowly walking toward me. She paused, her eyes shifting in my direction as she pulled the thin hand rolled cigarette from her mouth blowing smoke from her nose. “France,” she said sharply and with as little enthusiasm as someone could possibly muster for a response, looking away absently.

I’d become a no one. My life at 35 had amounted to nothing.

She sensed me watching, glanced briefly out of the corner of her eye, one hand on her hip, the other pulling reflexively on the cigarette resting loosely in her lips as she and a pale, sour blond girl conspired over a set of plans they held between them. The French girl looked up, caught my eye briefly and stepped out from under the tent.

"What's your name?" I asked

Marie, she said in her thick accent, sun glinting off her eyes.

"I'm Corey."

And she climbed into her white rented van, blasting hip hop, then disappeared over the small ridge of trees near the mission.

She was the indifferent truth of life to me, and I wanted her to care.


I watched her the next few days as she worked in the heat, sweat staining her shirts, her sooty eyes staring across the unforgiving landscape into nothingness as she directed the organized chaos of ten or so people on her design crew, guiding the of the setup of the event with a sullen graceful confidence, an air of quiet desperation filling her movements, as though she were trying to lose herself in the work.

One night after work her design crew, and the lighting crew that I was on, went to dinner at a barbecue place along the winding Hill Country road between the Mission and our nowhere motel on the out skirts of the urban sprawl of San Antonio.

Inside a Country band played for tips on a small wooden stage to a room full of locals sitting around picnic tables. Chicken wire filled the open windows. Out on the back porch music and smoked barbeque smoke filled the air. Neon beer signs advertising in the background.

Marie sat alone at the end of the picnic table, unwilling to engage with her co-workers in the morbid talk of work.

She didn’t look up at me once throughout dinner.

I was nothing more than background noise to just another job.


The next night Marie and a cute drugged out looking girl from the design crew walked into my room where me and a couple guys sat drinking, smoking joints to numb the fatigue. She walked in like I didn’t exist, posting herself up on Jimmy’s bed where she sipped on a bottle of red wine, rolling cigarettes. Car lights from the highway strobed past the streaked window in a steady stream of monotony. A rerun movie flickered incoherently joints were passed, and I drank, looking over at her from time to time. I tried to make small talk with her, some clich├ęd French. She showed no sign of interest in my advances and I moved to a chair by the darkened window staring out at the sprawling lights of San Antonio in the distance, turning from time to time to toward the mirror that hung near me, enveloped by her eyes, dark opals of emotion, her face a mix of beauty and sadness.

And soon she left, without a word.

The next day, in the midday heat I passed Jimmy.
"I hear Marie's in the process of a divorce. She's given up on love, that's all."

Ever since my divorce the year before I felt like giving up on everything.

And I knew she had too.

I watched her after lunch as she sat alone under the shade of the catering tent near the trees where the sharp grass ended and the woods began, Jimmy laughing at me, asking me what I saw in her. “Me,” I said as the sun beat down on our heads. “You’re crazy,” he said walking away.

The day of the wedding reception came with a mad rush to put the finishing touches on a weeks worth of work, then hide ourselves from sight, sweating, dirty and beat as the bands began arriving in their grand tour buses followed by shuttle bus loads of New Yorkers.

Purple dusk began to envelope the old Spanish mission.

Country music started playing from the small stage under the main tent as twilight fused with the hanging strands lights that covered the grounds. It was time to get drunk to wash away the pain in my body and the mounting sense of insignificance that I was feeling with my life.

Red dirt outlaw Country music played from my car stereo under the full moon in the woods behind the catering tents. Nearby, people from the different work crews - design, stage, lighting - gathered in a large circle in the dirt as bottles of stolen catering liquor and a couple of joints made their rounds.

Too stoned, I left to walk the grounds with Jimmy to see what we were missing. Nothing it seemed. The guests looked bored and indifferent to their surroundings. All our work meaningless.

We came upon Marie and a some of her co-workers in a side courtyard under rows of yellow lights we'd draped from the trees. Her hair was pulled softly off her tanned Mediterranean skin. Her eyes deep blue. I sat down beside her on the love seat.

She stood, holding an empty glass, making eye contact with me for the first time. "Do you want a whiskey?" she asked. I nodded, smiling to myself as I watched her round ass swish away.


When she returned we were shooed away as guests were likely to spill over at any moment into the courtyard where she sat, and we head out back to the woods where the party was still going on around my car.

Bottles and joints were making their rounds. I sat next to Marie on the ground near a tree as the commotion swirled around and I began to think of all the jobs I’d worked on, all the jobs that had left me feeling tired and used up, that had amounted to nothing in me but a sense of my life passing by without my permission.

I looked over at Marie under the steady gaze of the moon and out of nowhere I said, “I want to sleep with you.” She looked at me startled. “What are you saying?” she said. “I want to be with you,” I said again. “OH! You are crazy!” She stood up as Jimmy laughed. “Tell her how you feel, Corey," he said, encouragingly. I wanted one thing that I’d done that week to mean something, to be real. I was grasping at straws, I knew it, but I wasn’t backing down. I wanted her to know how I felt about her. “I want you,” I said looking up at her. People were laughing at the scene that I was making as she opened the bottle of Tequila that she was holding in her hand, then began pouring it over my head, saying, “OH! You shut up! You are crazy!” as she poured and poured the Tequila until I was wilted on the ground. “Don’t give up!” I heard Jimmy yell, to more laughter. And I knew that he was right even if he was joking. I had given up too many things in my life, school, love, dreams, leaving me feeling like an empty vessel adrift in emptiness.

I got up, taking my Tequila soaked shirt off, throwing it over a branch of one of the shadowy trees as the country music carried on. I’ll show her love, I thought. I’ll show them all. I went to my car and shuffled through the middle console, and found them, the handcuffs from a short lived job as a corrections officer. I pulled them out, latching one end onto my wrist as I walked back toward Marie, Hank Williams Jr. crooning out of the windows of my car. The commotion of conversation distracted everyone as I sat back down next to Marie and slipped a cuff on her wrist with a quick click. There was a long flat moment of silence as it registered in her mind what I’d done and I worried that I’d gone to far. She jumped up screaming, jerking my arm along in awe, “OH! You did not! OH! You did not! What are you doiing?” she shouted. “You get these off of me right now!” Shocked laughter came from the background. And I smiled, feeling as though for the first time in my life I’d finally reached out for and taken what I wanted.

Her eyes were wild in the moonlight and I told her that I loved her. “OH! You stop that! You shut your mouth!” she yelled to more laughter as Jimmy told everyone that I’d reverted to caveman tactics. “You take these off of me right now"!
“I’m not taking these off of you until you tell me that you love me.” I stared at her, unflinching. A final burst of cheers came from the wedding reception and the mission beyond and Marie smiled a half smile, relenting slightly as she looked at me directly in the eyes, seeing that I was derangedly sincere. “Pffff… Fine… Ohh… I love you…” And everyone clapped.

Jimmy stood, beaming, "I pronounce you man and wife!"

Marie sat back down next to me.

"Now you take these off of me."

I unlatched my end, leaving hers dangling from her wrist.

"Oooffff... You are terrible."

I smiled, and she shook her head, passing me the bottle of Tequila. And I knew that I had her.

The Country band stopped playing for the wedding reception and all of the guests began shuttling away as Marie and I walked out to the mission grounds to see what remained.

The long tables under the dinner tent down by the dried up river bed were cluttered with leftover food that the caterers were scurrying away. The flowers were looted. The place was abandoned and in tatters, forgotten just like every other job that I’d ever worked on, leaving me with the familiar emptiness. This time I wanted something more.

As Marie and I stumbled back toward my car through the dark drunk, we fell into a tarp on the ground near the industrial sized dumpster that had collected all the waste of the week. I tried to kiss her, but she resisted, twisting herself on top of me, staring down at me, searchingly, the moonlight peering over her shoulder, saying only, “It’s been a while for me."

Back in her motel room, lying in bed together in the darkness she clutched my body in her sleep.

The next morning when I awoke she sat on the opposite bed from me wearing red jeans and a white T-shirt, watching a black and white Cary Grant movie with the sound off, smoking a cigarette, the handcuffs dangling from her wrist. A small plate of pancakes and a coffee sat for me on the night stand between the beds. I sat up and sipped the coffee, too hung-over to touch the food. I looked around the room. She’d taped newspaper pictures over the tired old reprints of landscape paintings on the walls, attempting to block out the banality of the room, just as I’d tried to block out the banality of my fading life with her.

"Do you want to have sex again?" I asked, looking over at her.

She took a drag off her cigarette in silence without looking over at me.

"Pfff...," she said.

The window was open. A strong wind suddenly blew through the room and I stood to leave, throwing the key to the handcuffs on her bed.

As I opened the door, I turned back to her, "I really think I love you."

“Pffff...” she said again, shrugging her shoulders simply and assuredly, turning her head toward the endless gray outside the open window, and I left, thinking that I'd never see her again.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Leaving Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

After packing my clothes to leave the city for good I climbed the two flights of stairs to the rooftop of our six-story apartment building. It was gray out and just starting to drizzle. Small puddles began to form on the roof. The day looked how I felt, desolate and gray. The skyline of New York left me feeling empty like it always did.

I turned away, sadness flooding me and descended the drab mustard colored stairwell to the street.

I was going to miss her.

I walked out onto Havemeyer, then down to Metropolitan, past the brown, tan and red brick graffitied buildings with iron staircase facades cascading from the rooftops. The rain came down a little harder out of the menacing sky as pale urban hippie chicks somberly drifted past the soaking trash that lay strewn about on the ground.

I sat in the window of the bagel shop on Bedford Ave reading an underground New York paper as locals walked through the falling rain trying to look like avant garde foreigners, as foreigners passed by trying to like unimpressed locals, as tourists walked by looking lost, and out of towners walked by trying to look like sophisticated locals who were trying to look like unpretentious out of towners. No one seeming happy with themselves, except for the born and bred Brooklynites who filled in the backdrop and provided the authenticity that everyone was else was searching for, rain misting the human confusion.

As I stared out the large windows at the drizzling gray I thought about what someone had said to me the night before at work - You're like a carton of sour milk. You look good from the outside but inside you're sick. My head was filled with the familiar dark ache. A black nausea rested in the pit of my stomach. Tension gripped my shoulders and neck as a dull anxiety pulsed throughout my body. I felt like always felt of late, like I was unraveling, like the thing that was holding it all together, me, had become a shadow lost.

I started reading an article centered on New York culture. It disgusted me as it reminded me of my writing when I first moved to town - overly cute and pandering to the illusory grandeur of a city that was a false cliche perpetuated by obnoxious wannabes.

I put the paper down, finished my bagel and juice, then left, wandered down Bedford Ave aimlessly, deflecting the petrified stares of others as the light rain wet my hair and shirt, thoughts disappearing into the fog of my mind and the hurt.

I ducked through Spoonbill and Sugartown bookstore to get out of the rain, darted through the people and into the hallway between stores lined with tables and chairs where a photo booth sat.

I wanted to see if the pain that I felt on the inside was reflected in my image.

It was undeniable.

I got a cup of coffee from the Verb coffee shop.

I had trouble finding my voice at the counter then walked dejectedly home through rain that slicked the streets wondering to myself if it was best that I was returning to Austin, or if I was just running from myself again, if my depression had nothing to do with my environment, if I were simply the problem. I couldn't remember being this depressed in Austin for a long time, but it had happened. I thought about staying in Brooklyn but couldn't picture where, or how I'd live in the city and try to stay sober. I pictured myself sitting in dark bars drinking alone. I pictured walking in to an AA meeting in Austin and seeing an old friend who always made me laugh. I pictured him looking up and seeing my worn and spit out of New York visage, laughing hysterically.

I left the coffee shop and laughed to myself out loud as I walked in the showering rain, rubbing my beard thinking to myself that I must look crazy.

And I smiled as the wetness trickled down my face, stopping in the corner store on Metropolitan where I owed the Arab guy behind the counter 50 cents from the night before.

He smiled when I went in.

I grabbed what I needed, joking with him as I pulled my money out, reminding me of the scene at the end of BUFFALO 66 when he's buying the heart shaped cookie for his new girlfriend, talking with the guy behind the counter, smiling. Only I wasn't buying a cookie, I was buying roach spray, and I wasn't falling in love, I was falling out of love.

And I stepped back out into the rain...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The End

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

We arrived at the house upstate, just as Marie's friend and his three house guests were about to sit down to dinner, just as the night took over and the surrounding woods came alive with sound.

My head ached the dull constant ache that to me was the pounding incessant vacuousness of New York City as we all sat around the table on the back porch at the bottom of a wide stretch of grass. A lone candle flickered in the midst of the food and a bottle of wine, and the conversation began weaving its way around the unfamiliar faces. Someone mentioned the Chelsea Hotel. "Oh, we were just talking about this last night," Marie said perking up, glancing quickly at me and then at the others. "I've slept with three people at the Chelsea Hotel." She was beaming, proud of herself, and I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, something withering inside of me. "Four," I injected as my ears rang and the others stared blankly ahead or looked meekly toward me. "Depending on what you consider sex," her friend said to no one in particular. And Marie smiled into the prolonged silence that followed.

A couple of hours later I found Marie in the upstairs bathroom taking a bath. The house was silent except for the distant sound of crickets and someone working in the wood shop out back. It was late. I was tired. And I could feel the long shadowy tentacles of New York City reluctantly letting go of their psychic grasp on me. I sat on the toilet reading Bukowski, decompressing, trying to let go of what she'd said earlier at dinner, trying to see it clearly, trying to see why it bothered me so much. I looked out the window at the night then back to Marie. Her opal blue eyes searched my face as she sat up in the tub, her head protruding from above the bubbles of the deep white tub. "You alright?" she asked me. "Yeah," I said, lying. "Do you want to clean off?" she asked. I nodded and put my book down on the wooden windowsill as I stood up, slowly taking off my clothes as she stepped out of the tub, picking up a folded towel that lay on the tiled floor. I watched the gentle cushioned curve of her ass as she dried herself then climbed into the deep warm water of the tub. I leaned back, fading into relaxation, my mind searching for peace and calm as I watched her in the periphery as she brushed her teeth with her finger, in front of the mirror, wrapped in the clean white towel. And I pictured a scene not so unlike this one with another man in the Chelsea Hotel. She had mentioned sleeping with someone at the Chelsea a couple of times before over the course of our relationship, each time seemingly pleased with herself. She had mentioned sleeping with someone at The Chelsea the night before, catching me off guard as we walked home together, after dinner out in the Lower East Side, as it was in relation to someone who I'd never heard her mention before. I'd stopped briefly, bracing myself on the stained sidewalk in the dark asking her how many men she'd slept with at the Chelsea. Three, maybe four? One of the stories had changed. "I shouldn't be telling you this. Right?" she'd asked, almost caustically, searching my eyes, as though if I had a problem with it, it was simply my problem. "No, it's fine," I said calmly, asking her to recount the encounters as we walked along the dirty streets in the gloom of the run down buildings.

As we lay in bed together before drifting off to sleep, I realized that I was a masochist at heart, asking her to tell me again of her encounters. There was a cheapness and trashiness to it all that slightly turned me on, reminded me of the first time that we'd slept together, drunkenly, in the tarp next to the dumpster on the job in Texas.

And now, nearly two years later, sober, after the way that she'd so cavalierly flaunted her tacky sexual exploits in front of me - as though throwing it at me for having had the slightest reaction to it the night before - to a group of people who I didn't know, and a few who she didn't, I realized that I'd lied to myself about what I wanted in a woman. I realized that I was attracted to one thing and wanted another, and that those two disparate things were generally not found in the same woman. I wanted stability. I wanted trust. But our differing values about what was okay and what was not continually left me feeling off balance and unable to emotionally have faith in her as a partner, in us as a couple. What she had said in front of those people over dinner had simply left me feeling violated, feeling that what we had together was cheap and easy, nothing more. What she had said had left me feeling like she had no respect for me, or us.

I toweled off and walked into the room across the hall where she lay reading in bed, the hardwood floor creaking. I slid slowly across the sheets, lay down next to her and tried to read, the fan in the corner blowing warm stale air over us. "Are you okay?" she asked me, turning from her book. I stared up at the geometric designs that had been painted on the walls and ceiling trying to decide what to say, if anything at all. I didn't want to argue anymore. I was tired of voicing my problems then continually having to defend my positions. But I couldn't hold my tongue and the way that I felt. And I realized as the heat suffocated the room that this was the draining story of our relationship: she would say or do something provocative or inflammatory, completely oblivious to its effect on me, finding it upsetting, then needing clarification or understanding or an apology, which would only annoy and upset her, making her feel accused and judged, causing her to become defensive and attacking, making me feel disregarded and angry. And then we would fight, all of it sucking the life out of us both and the relationship in the process. This was our downward spiral.

I stared up at the red of the room that was intersected by sharp white, black and yellow lines and I thought back to the first fight that we'd had in that Las Vegas hotel room a year and a half before where I'd foreseen this dynamic as being our doom, and I realized that I should have just ended it then, like I'd wanted to at the time. People don't change who they are, and we couldn't seem to change the way that we related to one another. And I realized that I'd had enough, that I was done with us, and that it was time for me to move on.

Love...

Friday, 13 August 2010

Ayahuasca - How I Got To Brooklyn

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

It was gray out. The sky was darkening all around as we drove through a wasteland of urban sprawl shopping malls just outside of San Antonio. We were heading back home to Austin after another event – setting up lights for a young New York couple’s million dollar wedding reception at a Spanish Mission in the Hill Country of Texas. Seven straight days of work in the Texas heat. My body and head were heavy with fatigue. Storm clouds threatened on the horizon as Jimmy drove the white sedan, pushing the pedal and breaking the tired silence between us, “You ever heard of ayahuasca Corey?”
“No. Why? What is it?” I said, staring blankly into the distance.
Somber looking cars passed by in the opposite direction in a steady stream as traffic cleared ahead of us.
“It’s a South American hallucinogen used in shamanistic ceremonies. They call it ‘the vine of the soul’. I tried it a little while ago in Austin with a group of people and a shaman who were all in white robes in someone’s house on the south side of town. I met one of the guys at a bar one night. The stuff made me puke twice, then brought up a bunch of issues with me and my dad that I realized I needed to resolve. I don’t know why I thought of it just now. And I know that I just recently met you, but the thought that you should try it, just came to me,” he said as the rain started falling. “Somethin’ tells me you’d appreciate it.” I stared out the wet streaked window, fading into sleep, thinking of the French girl, Marie, from the New York design crew who I’d met on the job that week. I thought of the intensity of her eyes, and how I didn’t seem to choose the women that I fell for in my life, they just seemed to appear. And we barreled down the highway into the approaching darkness.
“Ayahuasca, huh?” I said before passing out.

A few days later Asa, my half Indian, fully crazy friend, came bounding up the stairs and across the landing to my second floor apartment.
“I’m going too!” he yelled before he even got to my open door. “Book me a goddamn ticket!” He stepped into my apartment wearing his uniform of black shoes, shorts and a gonzo t-shirt, his unruly black hair flailing behind him. “We were supposed to go on a fuckin’ road trip with the extra money from these last two jobs. And now you’re chasin’ some damn French woman to New York fuckin’ city. Jesus! Okay. But you’re not leavin’ me. I gotta woman there too. I’m goin’!”
“You sure?” I asked as he eyed me wildly, blocking the sun from my doorway.
“Yeah, I’m sure. You’re gonna need help on this one. She’s a French New Yorker. A horrible combination for a woman. You’re goin’ into the lion’s den on this one. You need backup. Plus, I wanna see Stephanie. Buy the goddamn tickets and I’ll pay you back! I don’t have a credit card.”

A week later I was standing in Marie’s apartment, a fourth floor, four room railcar walkup with turquoise walls not far from the Williamsburg Bridge. She lived in a neighborhood where the hipsters melded with little Puerto Rico. Spanish music and hip hop played out of nearby apartments.

Asa was somewhere in Manhattan with Stephanie, the girl he’d met on the same job that I’d met Marie on.

I opened the fridge in Marie's cramped kitchen looking for a beer. Near the back a small jar of brown liquid caught my attention. I pulled it out and looked at it, trying to figure out what it was. “What’s this sludge?” I yelled to Marie who was unpacking a suitcase, in her bedroom, at the other end of the apartment, her brown hair falling over her shoulders as she leaned over the her suitcase that lay on her bed. She turned and looked at me through two rooms, her petite frame tensing slightly as she turned and walked toward me. “That’s ayahuasca,” she said in her thick French accent as she came into the already overcrowded kitchen. “The guy who I am subleasing this apartment from brought it back from Brazil. Maybe you should try it some time. But not this stuff! It’s not mine.” Her accent lending a seriousness to her tone.
“That’s strange,” I said, putting it back in the fridge, an electric anxiety flooding me, “Jimmy mentioned this stuff to me just after I met you.”

The rain fell hard from the gray sky outside the windows the next day as I organized Marie’s library while she was at work, daydreaming as the rain poured down, picturing myself living there in the apartment with her, ensconced in Williamsburg, reading books, in love. And I thought of the brown sludge in the back of her refrigerator.

The next few days me, Marie, Asa and Stephanie drank our way through New York City, the Lower East Side, from a friend’s apartment where they tried to shave Asa’s ass, to dive bars throughout where Marie and Asa called each other ‘frog’ and ‘stupid redskin’, and I began to fall for Marie making hazy and crazed proclamations of drunken love.

It was our last night in New York City. Me, Marie, Asa and a buddy of ours from Austin who’d moved to Brooklyn the year before, drinking and listening to country music at Marie’s. We’d just recently introduced Marie to the sound, and she couldn’t get enough of the real stuff – Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, etc. Sinner/saintly music from red dirt America that seemed to coo to her slightly uptight French New Yorker aesthetics. Late into the night we turned the speakers up in her low lit apartment, toasted to life and danced in the tube like living room filled with books as the outlaw music played out of the open windows into the harsh concrete and steel night of Williamsburg.
Midnight approached and Marie went to get more beer from the corner store before they closed to keep the party going. When the door shut and she was gone I drunkenly leaned over and told Asa about the ayahuasca in the fridge. “What kind of jungle juice is that?” he asked. He’d never heard of it before, and his eyes went wild with the thought of a new drug as he brushed away the long black curls of hair falling around his face. “Let me see that shit,” he said as he got up and walked into the darkened kitchen. He opened the fridge and I reached in and pulled out the jar with the brown liquid goop buried in the back. His eyes narrowed in the dim light from the open refrigerator door as he took the jar from my hand and stared at the sludge. He sniffed it and cringed then downed half of it instantly, slamming what was left on the counter top. “Your turn,” he said unflinchingly. I looked at him. “Drink it buddy. Trust me,” he said smiling… And I drank it down.

Sometime later I found myself in the pitch black closet of a bathroom. I didn’t know what time it was or how long I’d been in there. I felt like I needed to throw up. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the drug or the beer or both. Whatever the reason was, I didn’t want it to come up as I figured that that would just make things worse. I took off my clothes and climbed into the shower where I sat on the floor letting the warm water wash over me, trying to determine if I was high or drunk. Then I heard Marie’s voice in the background sounding far away, searching for me, comforting. Suddenly she stepped through the darkness, as though it were a veil, and into the shower. An orange tunnel of light emanated from her stomach. LOVE. It was pure unfiltered love, spreading over me, through me, absorbing me, filling me. Her soft words penetrated me, comforting. Her hand stroked my hair reassuringly. And I melted in into the unconditional grace of her overpowering, overwhelming orange glowing, radiating, all encompassing love.

In the early morning I awoke to Asa standing over me. His hair seemed to be moving. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Do you see them?” he wanted to know. “The little green men. They were peeking at me from the plants in the other room,” he said, then turned and walked away and I fell back to sleep. I woke again a little while later to Marie laying on top of me in bed, her blue eyes staring at me intently. Light poured in through the window above the rusted fire escape outside where I thought I saw a little green man looking at me. Tracers curved around the outlines of the room. Marie was dressed for work, glowering at me, “Did you drink it?” she demanded.
“Yes,” was all I could manage.
Her weight shifted off of me and as she stood and I remembered the orange tunnel of light, and the outpouring of love.
“Oofff, I can’t believe you. That was not mine. I have to explain it to him now. I can’t believe you!” she huffed.
“It was amazing,” I said and smiled, “you were pure love.”
Her stance softened.
“What did you see" she asked reluctantly?
“Pure love pouring out of you.”
“Really,” she said, “You have to tell me about it later. I have to go,” she said, fighting off a smile. “I can’t believe you drank it. You’re supposed to be with a shaman,” she said, then leaned in and kissed me, “You’re crazy.”
“I was with Asa. He’s my shaman,” I said, “You were pure love.”
She laughed and shook her head, then turned and left for work. And I fell back to sleep.

I woke up around noon.

Rain poured down from the desultory sky outside of the smudged windows. My head ached. The room crackled with a faint hum of a distant electricity. I looked around. The place was a mess. Beer bottles and clothes were strewn everywhere. A frantic panic gripped me. We had to get out of the city. We’d already missed our plane two days before. We’d missed work. We were running out of money and wearing out our welcome. I got up, threw on some clothes, walked through the room filled with plants and Marie’s desk to the room with the books and the couch where Asa slept and woke him up.
“We gotta go.”
His eyes tried to focus. “I know,” he said, “The room’s been movin’ on me. I’ve been hearing things. Somethin’s not right. I saw green men spying on me. We gotta get outta here.”
“Yeah, I saw one too.”
Within fifteen minutes we were packed out the door, drenched in rain heading toward the Port Authority and Greyhound.

In Manhattan crowds of sullen people under a sea of black umbrellas filled the streets. Cars honked and screeched. My senses seemed on edge as dark skyscrapers loomed overhead. “I don’t think I can make it,” I said.
“Hang in there buddy. I’ll getchya outta here,” he said as I ducked into a liquor store to buy some whiskey to wash away the hangover.

By the time we got to the Greyhound ticket office I was buzzed, and were soaked, frazzled and weary. We stood at the ticket window pooling our money, having trouble making simple additions. The stoic old man behind the counter watched us without concern and nodded as we counted, then took over for us and told us we had enough to get us to Oklahoma. We had to get back to Texas. But Asa was from Oklahoma. His younger brother lived there. Close enough. From there we’d figure it out.

After we bought the tickets we wandered the station in a dazed state confusion, disoriented and shaken. But as we huddled on the ground near a garbage can in the corner of the loud monolithic surroundings, out of the way of the other deranged and haggard passengers a shared sense of well being permeated us.
Asa looked at me cockeyed and smiling. “Do you feel it?” he asked.
“Yeah. I feel alright,” I smiled, and we laughed, as we knew that we should have felt fucked given our situation, not a dollar to our names.
“It’s gotta be that drug,” Asa said looking out into nothing, “I’m still tingling inside.”

As the bus hurtled across the land away from the chaotic city toward middle America we sweated out the toxins of the week, curled up in the back seat as the sun rose and set for seemingly days on end with a comforting yet maddening regularity. We were cramped and uncomfortable yet exhilarating and manically alive, laughing at the absurdity of our hungered and weary misery in the grand scheme of things, as somehow, perhaps because of the lingering effects of the drug, we knew that everything was as it should be.

During a ten hour layover in St. Louis we lay in the grass of a park and stared up at the dull glow of the afternoon sky. I felt like something had shifted in my life. And I knew that things were going to different somehow from then on. Something in the air. Something from the week before. Something in the drug.

Asa and I spent the day talking about the crazy paths of our pasts that had led us to meeting each other five years before, reliving the funniest of the stories from our stagehand days on the road in Texas touring with up and coming country acts. And as the light began to slowly diffuse to dusk and sketchy figures filled the park we talked and laughed and made grand plans that we’d soon get ourselves into, like seeing the ports of the world working as Merchant Marines, or working together on fishing boats in Alaska, then raising dogs and running the Iditarod. And as much as I wanted to believe in the thought of adventure that being with Asa always promised I somehow knew that none it would ever come about, and a sadness followed me as we head back toward the Greyhound station beneath the slowly darkening sky.

And I knew as the bus plunged into the heartland toward the fading red orange horizon that things would never be the same for me or Asa, and that I’d chase that vision of love that’d poured out of Marie.

Five months later I had moved to Brooklyn with Marie. We were visiting Ecuador together, staying in the Andes in a small town at the foot of an active volcano. I was working on a book about all my sad and crazy years when I got the email that Asa had overdosed during SXSW in Austin. ‘Well, it happened,’ the line from Jimmy had read, and I thought about all the adventures that we’d never get to have, and I cried as I wished him a safe journey to the Great Buffalo in the sky to whom he often prayed. He was a good friend and better traveling companion, my foul-mouthed shaman who’d inadvertently guided me from one shore to the other in the ongoing struggle of my life. And I miss him dearly.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Rolling For Jesus

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

We were going to go upstate to take a few days together alone and decompress after a stressful week of breaking up and not breaking up and going fucking crazy.

Marie's friend's car wouldn't start when we got up to leave around noon on Sunday. A couple of Orthodox Jews were the only ones who would stop to try and give us a jump on Havemeyer. They pulled up like urban do-good commandos. They were bad ass. They hopped out and went right to it, blocking traffic for a full block in front of our apartment in the process without the slightest hesitation, as though the good work trumped any minor traffic inconvenience. I like their attitude. This city's so fucked up that the only people who will lend a helping hand are bound to by God's law - Marie had sat outside for three hours the night before trying to bribe people to help her. "Hopefully it works!" our large payot haired helper in his understated black and white outfit said as the car horns blared behind us and he motioned for Marie to turn the key. It didn't. And horns blasted. But the imprint of the good deed of God's commando team left me beaming. It takes some real balls to go out of your way to help someone in the midst of stifling indifference.

An hour later the tow truck showed up as Marie and I sat on the ground, wilted under the shade of a tree, near an overflowing dumpster next to the car, drinking iced coffee, as little kids walking with their mothers turned and looked and I contemplated on how cynical and indifferent I'd become since I moved to New York City.

The day before I'd sat in the bathtub like a four year old kid with bubbles in my hair, staring blankly at the wall trying to figure out what to do with my life, thinking of how I despised the impersonal, harsh and unforgiving vibrations of the city. "What are you doing, baby?" Marie asked as she peeked through the open door of the bathroom. We'd been arguing, fighting, trying to sort things out after she'd come back from upstate. "I think I just need to get out of here," I said. "I just wanna get on a plane and go." "Where do you want to go, baby?." "I don't know. Somewhere where people give a shit." "Your not in your right mind, baby." "I still wanna go."

After the tow truck took the car away we walked through the heat to the silver bullet of an airstream trailer where my friend from Texas cooked in the blurred border between Williamsburg and Bushwick. Sweat beaded on our skin as we sipped our lemonades and read the Sunday Times, talking about an article that posed the question of whether or not happiness can be bought. The article said that once your basic needs are met, money means fuck all. What does seem to be important, however, is the quality the relationships in your life. "I wanna live somewhere where I feel part of the surrounding community, not isolated from it," I said. "It's too fucking impersonal here." "You're free to make friends here," Marie said. "Nobody has time for friends here." "I'm glad you've stuck with me though, baby," she said, "I think we can make a life for ourselves somewhere else. I'm up for it."

My head ached a dull, tired, stressed out ache as we walked, then stopped, then walked, then stopped, block after block, resting in the shade, Marie smoking, me thinking, until we made it all the way to the free summer Sunday concert series at the waterfront that looked out across to the shimmering starkness of Manhattan, as a guy in a cut off t-shirt jumped around on stage yelling into the mic, a dj pumping his fist at the ambling crowd, in between bands.

We sat on a rock watching the concert people as we alternately looked out at the skyline of the city, gray clouds billowing, diffusing the sun, as I thought to myself that I didn't know one person in the midst of all those people there, and that that was my neighborhood. "Thank you for not giving up on me," I said, leaning into Marie, my beard tickling her ear, causing her to laugh as she shot me a playful glance.

We left before the next band came on and caught a cab to see a movie playing at the Landmark Sunshine Theater on Houston St. The driver let us out in front handball courts teeming with activity. "I'm not sure about a city where smacking a ball against a wall is considered entertainment," I told Marie. "They don't do that other places." "No, baby. There's better things to do in other places."

As we exited after the movie a large white faced clock stood ominously atop a building surrounded by dark clouds as the ink blue sky faded into black.

We sat at an outdoor table on the sidewalk in front of a pizza place near the Lower East side, candlelight from the table glowing off Marie's face as crowds and cars passed by in a steady distracting stream, her private thoughts filling her eyes with a longing sadness as she smoked, and I reflected how the city mirrored her sooty stare.

After dinner we walked through the darkened grimy streets of the Lower East Side under the glimmering lights of the city toward the Williamsburg bridge, toward home. A cab stopped as we approached the arced lit cables of the bridge. "Come on," the cabbie yelled! "I'm goin' that way anyway. Just give me a couple of bucks!"

His cab was overflowing with with pictures, business cards and mementos from his life. He smiled gregariously. The meter was off. He had unruly hair, a beard and electric eyes. He gave me his business card as we sped across the bridge, suspended in air. 'Rolling for Jesus' it said. "I'm a preacher, seer, street evangelist!" he said, his eye catching mine in the rear view mirror as the Manhattan skyline reeled by in my periphery.

He pulled the cab off to the side of the road under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway as we rounded the corner near our apartment. "This is close enough," I said. He flipped on the light and turned to look at me and Marie. "Let me leave you two with some couples advice. For the man: don't be tempted. Don't let others into your bed. For the woman: Accept him for who he is. Don't try to change him. Grow together but give each other space. And love each other."

Peace

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Medication

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

"You should come upstate," Marie said over the phone. "It's nice to get out of the city. It can get claustrophobic there. It feels good up here. It'd do you some good."

She'd left a couple of days earlier. We'd been living in psychic triage, wounded strangers in the same apartment, sleeping in different rooms, casualties of more blowouts. The night before I didn't sleep at all wondering what in the fuck to do. I couldn't think straight. My problems with her and work and New York had become one convoluted mess that I couldn't seem to separate.

Her voice sounded clear on the other end of the phone, void of contempt, hopeful. Maybe she was right? Maybe I should go?

The next day she called as I was packing in the dull heat of the apartment. The sky was gray outside. She wanted to know if I could take the train instead of the bus. Sure. I checked the schedules. She called back. It wouldn't work. Take the bus. I was running late. I called the car service. "Two minutes," the dispatcher said with a heavy Spanish accent.

I stood near an overflowing garbage can in front of the bodega on the corner of Havemeyer, outside our place, waiting for the car service as groups of Puerto Ricans old and young congregated on the sidewalks. Young white kids rode by on bikes. The car service was taking too long. The dispatcher called. The driver had heard the address wrong. I wasn't going to make it.

Finally the car showed.

Anxiety started to course through me in the backseat of the car as we crossed the Williamsburg bridge, New York passing by in blur.

The driver haggled with me over a couple of dollars when we stopped. I wasn't in the mood. I made him call the dispatcher to straighten it out. When I got out I realized that I'd gone to Penn Station instead of Port Authority, as the driver cussed me in Spanish as he pulled away. I thought about kicking his door as I cursed the ugliness of the city around me, the ugliness growing inside of me. I looked at the time. I'd missed the bus. I could still catch the last train out in an hour and a half.

I sat on the floor of Penn Station, tucked in a corner, hidden from the crowds of people and the searching eyes of the desperate who scanned faces looking for signs of weakness and confusion. I shooed them away with my stares as I tried to call Marie to see if I should catch the train. The train station is an hour in the opposite direction from where she was, where the bus drops off upstate. No one answered at the house where Marie was. Cell phones didn't work up there. I called again and again, each time my stomach twisting with anxiety. The house upstate began to feel like an emotional mine field filled with exes of hers, friends who sabotage, guys, imagined and real, who want to be with her. Any of those things could set me off. I didn't have the patience for it anymore. I put down the phone. Fuck that place and fuck her.

I dragged my bags to the overheated subway, where sweat, agitation and dirty looks poured out of people in the dingy fluorescent tunnels. The familiar pressure behind my ears that I'd begun to associate with New York built as I sat on my bags on the dirty floor waiting for the train to come, the life inside of me seeming to wilt against the unforgiving stares of the sullen crowds on the platforms. I waited and waited, a discomforting echo sounding incessantly in the din of my mind, a subconscious alarm of warning. I felt trapped. I wanted to leave. I wanted to get the hell out of there, out of New York.

I was worn out when I stepped out of the stale heat of the subway into the dusk of Brooklyn. Marie called. Trash blew slowly in the gutter. Life seemed to stand still. I threw my bags on the sidewalk near the green jail like elementary school near our place, and tried to explain to her why I wasn't coming at all, why we weren't working out. She got it, she said. I didn't feel safe with her.

The next day after fitful, tortured sleep and 101 failed plans to get the fuck out, out of the relationship, out of New York, I went to see my therapist. "It seems that the two of you deal with things fundamentally different. She buries her head. You confront. It causes conflict. You don't seem to trust her. But you don't trust anyone. You want stability, but choose women who are chaotic. You like structure. She doesn't seem to. People don't usually change. They modify, but don't change. The two of you can accept and modify, or split. And you, do you need medication?" she said. I laughed at this and the ridiculousness of my life as I lay on the leather chaise lounge in the brownstone in Brooklyn, and could almost feel my therapist's smile behind me where she sat in her brown leather chair as she said, "What? You feel like that will be as ineffective as you find our sessions?" It was the most she'd said in all the months that I'd gone to see her combined. She'd reached the end of her rope too. I laughed, "I fell like I've tried it all before," I said, "Nothing seems to work. Maybe I just need to leave all this?"
"That's what you've been doing your whole life. Running. It hasn't worked. Try something different this time. Stay. What if it's not the place and the circumstances, it's you?"
"Then that's sad," I said, "I'll take the fucking medication."

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Es crazy, no?

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Reading on the L train as it rocketed underneath the East River in the early morning remains of Saturday night / Sunday morning. The worn, bleach blond haired woman with the gypsy face and buxom figure sitting across from me suddenly began laughing, holding her pink fake nails over her mouth as I looked up from my book. She smiled at me shaking her head as she put her hand down, flashing her eyes toward the other passengers, then laughing again she returned her playful gaze to me. I looked around the somber, morgue like train, searching under the stale fluorescent light for the source of her laughter. Heavy heads with ashen faces nodded against their own weight as the train screeched and burrowed its through the underground. She got up and came and sat down next to me, holding her hand out, smiling. I thought that she wanted to introduce herself as she leaned up against me, but she was pointing at my book that I held open in my lap. "You reading," she said with a strong Eastern European accent, still smiling, trying to keep from laughing. "Look," she said turning toward the dead-to-the-world-passengers who looked as though they were being ferried across the River Styx to the underworld. "They drinking. Es crazy, no? Look what they do. And you reading, smiling. Strange. No?" No. Surreal, I thought as I looked around, that I'd be beaming, reading Andrei Cordescu, oblivious that I was on my way to the fifth circle of hell.