Fabian’s Note — Technical Difficulties Update: due to the fact that this column was inaccessible for most of the last 168 hours, and a deluge of mail was received at Castle Dust remarking on that fact, Mr. Dust has decided to pull the previous column early and repeat it in this week’s slot. That way, the majority of regular readers who were denied their weekly Dust fix can now enjoy the original column unmolested by spinning bufferers and Latvian Viagra ads. Also, since Mr. Dust was shut out of the mainframe, he was unable to write anything new, so there wasn’t much choice. Also, we’re all drunk.
However: if you were one of the few who read this before, read it again! It has additional bonus material, PLUS a hidden treat! There will be prizes!
Plain and simple, I just don’t know if I can deal anymore. Things keep changing, and for the worst. They just tore down my favorite bar. It’s a shoe store now. The house I grew up in is a condo. Nothing seems as good as it used to be. All my friends got married and left town. Then, two months ago, my girlfriend split. I feel more lonely that I can describe. I don’t know what I expect you to tell me, but I thought you’d at least understand. I almost wish I had something serious, like cancer or just back from Iraq, so at least I’d have a reason to feel this way. Seriously, that’s the worst part. Maybe I’m just being a baby. And I have to be at work tomorrow at 7am.
Tell me to stop whining, fine. But please don’t tell me that I have to “move on.”
Anything but that.
When I left college (for the second time) I moved to a rather large city on the promise of a job as a screenprinter’s assistant that never materialized. There was a woman who lived in that city who’d repeatedly asked me to share an apartment with her, so I figured at least I had that to fall back on. But when I got there, some other gentleman had already moved in, and she quietly closed the door in my face. For a couple of months I rented the space behind an old piano in an acquaintance’s living room for sixty dollars. It was just big enough to roll out a sleeping bag and stack some books. I got a job at a foundry, where I wasn’t union, and therefore treated like a dog. I was doing incredibly grueling hump labor, for shit money, living in a city where I knew almost no one except the woman who’d spurned me for a guy with a neck tattoo.
I can say with some assurance that I felt pretty much exactly as you describe above.
What to do about it? On weekdays, nothing. I went to bed at 9pm, exhausted. But Friday nights I went out and got shitfaced on Tecate and bourbon in the tough Mexican bars that populated my new neighborhood. The men who drank in these bars didn’t seem happy to see me coming, but they didn’t seem surprised either. I think more than anything they recognized the burns on my arms and the callouses on my hands and the exhaustion in my eyes, and just left me alone. And that was enough. To be peaceably surrounded by those in the same situation as I was. Sloughing off a rote and soul-killing week, excising tedium through sips of tequila and soccer on TV. Playing endless mariachi on the juke and dancing unsteadily between the tables. Watching a fight I was happy not to be in, betting numbers in some inscrutable bar lottery, chewing plastic straws, tipping wet change, laughing at jokes I only understood the first and last words of. But it was the bartenders in particular. Always stocky women in tight dresses, always kind. They smiled and slid me every third beer free and shared their tamales and microwave popcorn. They whispered soothing advice, lewd jokes, weighted questions, wolf tickets. I smiled and nodded through it all, until I’d had my fill, amidst cries of Es Hora de Cerrar! and staggered home. Yes, it may have been those bartenders alone, with their thick shoulders and gold teeth and dangling St. Christopher medals, that truly kept me going.
Every Saturday morning, hungover, I’d get up early and go to a breakfast place down the street called New Dawn. It was garish and dirty, with red walls and ironic art. The service sucked, run by angry queens and tattooed Betty Pages too strung out to care about tips. The food was truly awful. Huge mounds of eggs with burnt vegetables, bits of eggshell crunching between your teeth, too much garlic, soggy toast, hard potatoes. And it was filled with hipsters, most of whom seemed not to work, your various perpetual students and shaman poets and theoretical sculptors and Trotskyite potheads and interpretive cloggers. Translation: unrepentantly, achingly white. For some reason, like a scoop of sherbet, I relished my beer-sick mornings amongst them. I relished gulping my large house drip while they sipped their mochas, an honest ache in my muscles while they sweated out their X and cigarettes and paranoia and casual entitlement. Fairly or not, I always felt like a king in beggar’s clothing, observing his subjects in mufti. The pale masses and their MFA’s, the haircuts and Third Eye Blind t-shirts and white dreadlocks. I owned them. I owned them because I was a person, an actual person, and they were an assemblage of affectations and privilege. Or so I imagined. At any rate, none of them ever spoke to me. Over the course of a year, not a single time. Which was fine, because that would have ruined the spell, or at least made me lose my place in whatever Knut Hamsun paperback I was halfway through, head thrumming with the Tecate Fight Song as I quietly rose in my own estimation.
So there, Darren, were two things that made me feel better. The bars, and the opposite of the bars. Not much, but a little. Not something you need to recreate, but perhaps a metaphor. The accuracy of the fantasy I’d constructed about either or both seems irrelevant.
Now to your point about change:
Unsurprisingly, New Dawn went out of business. Surprisingly, a military-themed restaurant took its place. I cannot explain the sense of loss I felt. My bizarro-world retreat had succumbed to its own awful gravity. So what did that say about me? I never had time to find out. New Dawn almost immediately re-opened as The Bunker. And The Bunker was always empty. No hipsters smoking Camel olivados, no rave casualties, no crying babies. No crowd of anxious couples on the wait-list craning their necks and mentally willing you to finish your bacon faster so they could sit down and order egg whites and steamed asparagus before taking a ride around the lake on six thousand dollar racing bikes. At any rate, I soon forgot all about New Dawn. The Bunker’s menu was PX inspired–heavy on the meat. Steak, bacon, or chorizo in almost every dish. Even the yogurt and vegetarian selections. But there was room to lay out the World News section, read the classifieds, stretch my elbows, the quiet strains of lonesome cowboy music coming from a transistor radio hanging from a peg in the kitchen. And all the dishes were named things like The C-Ration and The Pentagon and The Stack O’ Claymores, which was weird. Certainly off-putting enough to drive away any remaining clientele.
And that was fine, because not only was it wonderfully silent, like the inside of a decommissioned sub in dry dock, but it left me alone with the cashier.
She was hazel-eyed, in an Eisenhower jacket and khaki skirt, a brunette made up to look like a 1940’s WAC. She smiled at me. I was too scared to smile back. She threw away my check. I was too scared not to pay. After a few weeks of indecision and fear and desire, I finally asked her out. She said yes. Astonishing. Transcendent. She drove a 1967 Dodge Dart that had three on the column and listed hard left, as if the suspension were about to collapse and pour her into the gutter. On our first date, I tried to take her to one of my Mexican worker’s bars, but she wouldn’t have it. She wanted to go up to a hill that overlooked the city and sit in the grass. It was a park during the day, a place where teenagers hung out and drank beer beneath the power plant that occupied one peak. We drove up the winding road, listening to Nina Simone. I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was, features sharp, eyes sparkling with brilliance or madness. We got to the top and looked down on all the lights, the boulevards and avenues and line of idling diesel buses. She released her tightly pinned hair and it unfurled like the flag of a superior nation, hanging down almost to her waist. Her red lipstick was severe, framing a cynical grin, moored in the center of a pale amusement. I could feel myself convincing myself that I was in love. That I always had been. That we’d survived the war, lived through the worst together, emerged even stronger and more committed to carnal pleasures and humanist values. We were Luxembourg in a short dress. We were New Zealand with a flat stomach and an unerring knowledge of poetry and the classics. We held hands and sat on the grass and talked for a long time. Her parents were, in fact, Russian. She was studying theology. Her brother was a disgraced physicist working as a video clerk. Her mother sold knock off perfumes in a open-air stall. These details were intoxicatingly odd and unapologetic. The subtext beneath her father’s long struggle with Scientology was that we all just were. We all just are. I told her about myself, at least what I could stand to hear repeated aloud. I gently traced the tattoo between her shoulder blades, a dragon with a Cyrillic scroll in its teeth. She finally pushed me down and straddled me, leaning over and kissing my neck, fumbling around in a genial manner. It was fantastic. Except for one thing. She stank. Badly. I tried to ignore it, tried to mentally will the odor away, but it was getting worse, making me sick. Her lips covered mine. The scent filled my nose and mouth. Finally, I shook her off and stood up, ready to declare that nothing good was ever truly good, to curse the titans, curse the mortals, be turned into a pillar of artisanal salt. My luck was horrible. How could I have suspected otherwise? I was what I deserved to be, the modern sheath of me draped over the soul of an ancient Greek transgressor doomed to forever push a refrigerator uphill, or have my spleen pecked out by rabid grackles. I genuinely considered running to the peak and hurling myself off its graffitti’d berm, if only for the relief of hanging suspended in the night for a few long seconds.
Then I noticed an old red collar laying in the dirt near my foot.
The metal ID tag glinted in the moonlight.
It said Brutus.
The park was used to walk dogs.
We had been laying in dog shit.
Or, more accurately, I had been laying in dog shit, and she had been laying on me. It was all over the back of my pants and my shirt. I was so relieved. I giggled. She didn’t stink! But how to tell her I was now swathed in excrement? Fuck it. I just came out with it. She didn’t recoil. She laughed too. “You don’t stink!” she said. “Thank God!” I stripped down as best I could, and then found an empty bag of cement to cover her seat with and then she drove me back to my place. The whole way there, we talked as if there were nothing wrong. That was what finally, elementally got me. What gripped me deep and hard. The way she didn’t make stupid jokes, grind it to death, be juvenile or obvious. The world was what you made it. And we made it ours. Just roll down the windows and go. We chatted, a contrail of stink carried off behind us like Isadora Duncan’s scarf. Her car pulled up at my ugly, peeling apartment. Like a three-story warning, in the center of my discarded needle of a neighborhood. But she didn’t even blink. The plan was that I would run up and get new clothes, but she parked and followed me in. I showered and then we lay in my sleeping bag behind the piano, and while my other roommates clinked beers, arguing loudly over some fantasy strategy board game, we made love by the foot pedals.
Perhaps for the first time in my life that tired cliche “making love” was true, or at least had meaning, because we really did, slow and easy and staring literally and literarily into one another’s eyes.
I finally knew, at age twenty, that there was something more than fucking.
“I can’t believe how tightly we fit,” I whispered, fighting to maintain control.
“I know,” she said, biting my lip.
“Has anyone ever come as soon as they got inside you?” I stupidly asked. “I mean, you know, I don’t know how they could hold back.”
“No,” she said, elevating her hips. “Because no one has ever been inside me but you.”
And so, willing it, she was almost a virgin.
And so, willing it, I was almost a good person.
We were writing our own script.
I came, and at that moment, every single aspect of my life swam away, changed, flagellated, began again.
We were together for almost two years, and then she left me.
Yeah, left me.
But do you see the point I’m making, Darren?
Or at least one of many?
Nothing is static. All is eventually replaced, including every last cell in your brain. Things morph. From hopeless to worse sometimes, but there is solace to be found in the movement. In the inevitability. It is true that we are all alone. But the possibility of connection, even fleeting, is everywhere in the midst of that solitude. At a bar or a doomed restaurant or in the smile of a waitress. In the story you construct for yourself. What evanesces is renewed–often for the worse, many times for the better.
It’s okay, Darren. You don’t have to move on.
Stay right where you are.
Just open to the possibilities of that spot, even a fraction.
Begin a sentence, add a comma, let it write itself.
Ask Me Anything.
Talk Shit. Be Vulnerable.
Go ahead, I know it hurts.
All contact info is entirely confidential.
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