Monday, January 26, 2009

Thoughts Before Passing Out

Given a choice, I’ll opt for the bus over the subway. True, this may increase travel time—as much as twenty minutes additional. But what’s lost in efficiency, it’s more than made up by scenery. Once—out the window of the M103—I caught two bums, the first urinating on the second. The second, of course, sleeping hard. At the light, corner of Fourteenth and Third, I saw even steam rising off the hot flow. I guessed, when bum number two woke, he’d find himself stuck. Glued to the sidewalk by frozen piss.

Contrast that scene, if you will, with the regular view from the Six Train. Black tunnels interrupted by cement platforms. Nothing really. I don’t mean vagrants avoid the subway, far from it. The subterraneans, though, tend toward a couple flavors. First, the two dollar hotel guests, sleeping on the train—often stirring but never waking. Their sandaled feet caked in shit. Second, the folk intent to sing, tell stories, bemoan. Panhandlers really. To cope with these, I recommend headphones.

Now, I’m reminded of a particular ride. Into Brooklyn on the L Train. Somewhere between First Avenue and Bedford, passing underwater—no escape—one passenger rose and addressed the crowded car. Dressed well enough, this man, probably not homeless. He kept on, orating all through the tunnel and three stops into the BK. Of what he spoke, I don’t know—I was grooving to Journey on my iPod. But his arms flailed and he made eye contact with near everyone. Finished, he collected—not linty change—but dollar bills. A fist full of moist cash. I offered nothing—but thought about donating a five-shot if he’d run through his story again. So affecting I imagined it. I didn’t, but it was a good idea. I’m full of good ideas.

On the subject of good ideas, here’s another. Fights with the wife, they’re unavoidable. Mainly because of the drinking. Not about the drinking. But because of the drinking. Like how last month I might have let the C-word slip in reference to her mother. Might have. Don’t remember. Based on hearsay really. That, and the fact I woke on the couch. So much I remember. And my point: when she decrees a night on the sofa my fate—and it happens man, it happens. What I tell the kids is, Daddy’s got a cold. Daddy doesn’t want to make Mommy sick. Daddy will be a good boy and sleep on the couch. This, it saves the little guys some worry. And bonus: come morning, with a major hangover, faking ill ain’t all too hard.

And other good ideas too. Bottles worth. When the days move slow and the nights are alive. And each day gives birth to wilted promise. Bottles worth. Each night I can taste something fresh. Even if it won’t digest. And, if I may be candid, that is my story: I drink. And for a handful of fuzzy moments, dreams cease to be dreams. I am the splendor. The fulfillment of the unfulfilled. Bottles’ worth. And I forget, not just who I am, but the evolution I always expect. I can enjoy triumph unearned. I have so many idas.

Monday, January 19, 2009

...But You Can't Come Back All The Way

She is a distinguished looking woman. Deep lines in her face, like swaths of permanent marker. Hair pulled tight into a bun, save a few stray wisps. A beige parka, fake fur collar, to protect against the cold. And her purse, compact and solid and tube-shaped, it sits beside her on the park bench.

She looks solemn, this woman. Her posture straight. Her eyes focus ahead, always. For hours. For days. On the concrete wall at the park’s edge. Children play handball against a mural of chipped and faded paint. For weeks. For months. The cold is no bother. Nor the snow, so easy it is to brush off her parka. Rain is another matter. And sleet, that’s worst. Like a terrible milk shake poured from the sky. Cold as snow, piercing like the rain. But somehow heavier than either.

She is a serious woman. Rarely does she speak, but instead smokes cigarettes at a steady interval. Thin, brown ones she keeps in a chrome case. Keeps in her purse. The smoke she takes in deep and thoughtful drags. And lets go in directed plumes. Filters, yellow with nicotine, gather at her feet and on pleasant days birds peck them and carry them off. When the weather is not so fine, they are buried in the snow. Or torn apart by the rain.

She is troubled, this woman. The steady eyes. The cigarettes, sucked to nothing in three puffs. The routine, unbroken. Rarely she speaks but when she does, she speaks of the mural. Laid it down, she says, stroke by stroke, her own brush. This was decades ago, she says. Somewhere between three and four. By now everyone has forgotten this, her work. The children playing handball, even they do not see it.

* * *

This was years ago. People look back and say the neighborhood was much better. They say it was clean and safe. A young girl could walk home after dark. All by herself and without worry. That, and never have to step over a littered soda bottle or fast-food container. People look back and say these things, the good old days. But they are wrong. The only change is this: then they were young. And now they are old.

A lifetime ago, that’s when this was. When everyone was an artist or a poet. And sleeping on mattresses without bed frames was cause to brag. Sharing food and drugs and beds. An odd moment, a sepia snapshot of history. When they judged one another not by the sum of their assets but by the sum of their dreams. Tomorrow? Never.

This was a world ago. The day she went down to the park with her paints and her brushes. On the concrete divider, a safe partition between the basketball court and four lanes of traffic just beyond, she sketched first with white chalk. Women blending into mountains dissolving into clouds. And every day she would paint. The old men playing chess made foolish moves when she bent over to exchange brushes. And every day she would paint. Until all she could add were the most diminutive details. And still, every day.

A dream, that’s when this was. Before the artists and poets became addicts and nobodies. Before they realized the sum of their dreams could not buy even a cup of coffee. And one by one the old men stopped showing up to play chess. Replaced, one by one, with men not quite so old. And she gave up adding details. She let the mural be.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The World and Winston

The Usual

This is the sum of forty-seven years on earth. My great achievement. Proof of my existence. Are you ready? Payoff for a life lived. My high water mark. Check it out: I enter Pinnacle Deli, approach the counter, I say, “The usual.” Nothing more.

Like setting off a Rube Goldberg machine, these two words have feet sliding and arms twisting and eggs landing on the skillet, a hiss. Toasters toasting and coffee pouring. The end result: an everything bagel topped with two eggs over easy (yolk runny enough to moisten the bread, not so thin it’s dripping down my fingers) and a large coffee (light, two sugars). But only, “The usual.”

Here I peak. God bless these folk. Who’ve set aside a small piece of their memory (a chunk of brain that could hold football statistics or their daughter’s imaginary friend’s favorite color) for this poor fool’s breakfast.

So if I leave no other footprint upon departure from this sticky planet, let that be my legacy. And when other men dine with wives, families, remember: their meals may be spoiled by argument, or worse, silence. But Winston’s is always perfect at only two words.


As best I can figure, the difference between laws and rules is this: laws apply always. Rules need only be followed in public. Murder is never appropriate, regardless of forum. But letting rip an outrageous fart—acceptable when seated alone on your couch, of immeasurably poor taste on a jam-packed bus. Here is my problem: so many people don’t get the between-the-lines nature of rules.

On the stoop, I watch my breath and I watch dog piss slowly freeze into hazardous ice slicks. Who walks by is this 20-something with a sharp pea coat and a pair of white Velcro shoes. Exactly what I mean. In your private residence, go on and get your kicks. But among the general population, Velcro shoes: kosher only on those under seven or over seventy. Take some pride in yourself. Try not to slip.

Rules, I’ve gone far to abide. Never, not even in childhood, was I to make a disturbance, a scene, a splash. If, in addition to most athletic and most likely to succeed, my senior class had voted on most anonymous, I’d have been a shoe-in. Unless, maybe I’d kept too low a profile.


When typing smack over internet checkers, I follow two rules: first, keep the salty language in check (“fool” not “fucker”). Second, never threaten an opponent’s person (Yahoo! will involve authorities). That said, WinningWinnie61 doesn’t suffer fools.

I will jump and double jump. Sacrifice pieces, set up shots. Triple jump. Blockade. And throughout, a running commentary at screen’s bottom. Your collapse, play-by-play. Sometimes, no response. But you read. Sometimes, a curt reply. You’re fuming. Sometimes, I might just bring out the best in you.

WinningWinnie61: What could you hope to accomplish with that move buddy?

FlyingKingFaLife : strategy

WinningWinnie61: Gotcha. Hey, can I ask you a question?

FlyingKingFaLife: ?

WinningWinnie61: Faux hawks and you?

FlyingKingFaLife: dude. what’s your issue?

WinningWinnie61: Wait for it…

WinningWinnie61: …you’re both over!

FlyingKingFaLife: damnit

WinningWinnie61: Disappointing effort buddy.

FlyingKingFaLife: whatever man. i gotta go take my lady friend out for dinner

WinningWinnie61: Remember, you need at least a basic skill set before calling your moves a “strategy.” And review my play. You cross a talent this caliber but almost never.

FlyingKingFaLife has signed off

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sketches of Suburbia

Out of the concrete island, three lanes on either side, grows a weeping willow. Drooped branches, hanging just above traffic, brushed by the none-too-rare SUV. In the winter’s lack of sunlight, the foliage atrophies to banana yellow. Such is the contrast between milky sky and cartoonish leaves, that one could almost expect the Lorax to appear. To speak for the tree. To decry the Hummers and their bastard barber jobs.

Until five years ago, a locally owned hardware store operated on Piccolo Street. It was replaced by a juice bar. Replaced by a pizza joint. Need a claw hammer, now you’ll have to drive a mile down the highway. Home Depot. Admittedly, their selection is every bit as extensive. Better even. Up till last month, day laborers lined the fence at the property’s edge. But with the economy crushed the work dried up and most of those men—plaid shirted and mustachioed—traveled back to Mexico. More opportunity to be had.

The bartender laughs and jokes. In the restaurant behind, families eat quesadillas and cheeseburgers. The bar and grill. A kid, flat brimmed baseball cap, hooded sweatshirt, goatee on chin only, he says, “My man, get me a glass of water. But make it seem to be a real drink, would ya? I don’t wanna look like a pussy.” So the bartender hands him a short tumbler. Ice, a wedge of lime, two thin black straws. And back with his crowd, the bro impresses all by how quickly he drains the vodka tonic.

Night falls and neon lights up. No more highchair crowd dining but the barroom is shoulder to shoulder. Most early-twenties and lost. Some early-thirties and sad. They bullshit and argue and piss on the bathroom floor. They tell the bartender he doesn’t deserve a tip, all he did was pop a beer. Outside, cigarettes are bummed and smoked and bummed again and the men and man-children stare into darkness at the town which is, by turns, their kingdom and their purgatory. Exchanging stories of girls whose asses they were this close to pulling. Guys whose asses they were this close to kicking. This close, always.

Christmas lights twist around the willow’s limbs. Ensuring its unearthly appearance is not missed in the late hours. One thing so bright and obscene even a drunk driver could not hit it. Unless, of course, on purpose. This is suburbia. An artificial small town. Ornate and comfortable. Where the paper is delivered every morning, the mail every afternoon. Safe and stable. This is suburbia.