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Some Good Reason
When I woke up for the last time during that in and out half awake half asleep nap the television was on and there was someone I did not know sleeping on the couch next to me watching it. The square box in the corner of the screen told me that it was 6:11, I was eleven minutes late for work, George Bush was all of a sudden my president-elect, there were three shopping days till Christmas, nine days until the turn of the millennium (remember there was no year zero) and I was sick with hunger and anxiety and anger that I was now fallen into yet another bad habit, that I had started sleeping away the only hour of free time I had between two jobs that I hated, and at which I was not taken seriously at all. There’d been two straight weeks of foul weather and the snow left on the ground had still not browned as I’d been used to but looked like a crumpled, Bleached pile of sheets. It seemed that it had consistently been twenty three degrees since early November. It was a bad time in America, a bad time to be sober and a bad time to be reading Ayn Rand again. The Barnes and Noble cashier seemed to get it though, shrugging his shoulders a bit as he gave me my change and hurriedly shoved The Fountainhead into a rigid, beige plastic bag.
Oscar Wilde had looked at me from the bag with drugged eyes that day and as the garbage had still not been taken out, as I stirred a bit on the couch I could feel him still, in the kitchen, underneath a few frozen burrito wrappers and damp used coffee filters. I put my fist to my chin and popped my neck and looked at the guy sitting next to me. He looked like everyone else I’d met, cut profile against my art on the wall, face glowing in front of the TV Guide channel. His eyes were open but I would have thought he was sleeping anyway, if not for the occasional sniffs symptomatic of a mild congestion. In the end, just another person to get sick from. Anyone could have brought him here.
I had woken up in the middle of a dream, or maybe it was the end of a dream but I couldn’t tell, because the final image made no sense to me. I was running with choice as my fuel down the hill from my job, thrilled and panting with the knowledge of the decision I’d made earlier in the dream to leave the city. I was running down the hill, in the direction of my apartment, which was in the heart of downtown, which wasn’t strange even though I was running to leave because I knew that my means to leave would be found there, it had to be found there. I was running fast and it was snowy and I tripped over myself and smacked my body on the right side of this car’s hood. I hit it pretty good and fell to the ground, and noticed that I had dislodged a spare set of keys under the tire. I jumped to my feet, the right side of my face frozen with slush, my mouth open, silent. This was the way out. There was nobody around; it was dark though not late and this was not unexpected. I opened the car door and it seemed that the car was already running. The streetlamps glowed on it. The passenger seat was spotlighted and I stuck my head in. There was a little dog on the seat and the passenger side window was rolled down a crack to let in some fresh air while the owner was out. But the owner was nowhere around. Then I knew because the dog was looking at me with no expression, and I would not take the car. I couldn’t take the car with the dog and I could not just leave the dog in the street. There was no leash (and even no collar) so I couldn’t tie it up. There was the dog, just with its eyes on me. That’s when I woke up.
But I had to so I popped off the couch and shuffled to the bathroom in order to gain some quick equilibrium. There were things happening in the apartment but I did not see them. I closed the door behind me and plopped myself down on the toilet. The door, crusting with splinters and old paint, excused itself and opened an inch. I could forgive a broken latch I guess. I rubbed my eyes there for a minute (6:13) and squeezed for way too long and only came out with a coal black stool vaguely shaped like a hitchhiker’s thumb. I’d lived too many of them, too. The pipes underneath me yawned and I cried with them. The door wavered in the draft. There were used Q-Tips and razors on the floor and the soapdish was now officially an ashtray. I coughed. I picked my dry stuffed nose until it bled and plugged it with TP and it ended up exactly as it had started off. I hadn’t even needed to go to the bathroom but often times it gave me a sense of refuge. Who had said it was the only place a man could to go be alone?
I exited the bathroom eventually (6:14) and oh, my housemate’s girlfriend (one of the many staying (rent free) at me and my girl’s place these days) was in the kitchen cooking up some of the last of my pasta. I didn’t have any sauce and I knew she hadn’t bought any and I didn’t say anything, nor did I need to. The woosh and the chill of my opening the freezer door said it all.
It was all the booze we had and it was a half of a bottle of peppermint schnapps that my girl’s co-worker had bought over about two weeks ago, at a totally contrived party when one of her co-workers, a different one than the one that brought over the schnapps, one that was married and with kids, ended up sleeping with the rasta that had been crashing at our place for a bit and who had been kicked out to his surprise because he was under the assumption that he could try our patience. Anyway this turned into a shitfest as you can imagine and I’d invented all kinds of conversations I could have had with him in my head, screaming at him in my head, articulating all kinds of fantastic things I could have said to him that would have made him shudder in terror at how right I was, how embarrassed he would have been to be alive and all of that, but in the end he tried to talk to me about the phone bill and I asked him if I should make myself clearer and he said yes and I said you’re not here when we get back from New York and he said Thank You, which I’ll never ever understand, but said You’re Welcome to anyway.
So it was me and the girl eating my food and my head hanging over the half-empty bottle of peppermint schnapps and lots of invisible sighing and the moan of the TV and the dark outside. And oh my god isn’t this the 22nd? I asked her, there, in the kitchen. Isn’t this the first day of winter? The solstice? The shortest day of the year? (6:17)
No she said stirring that was yesterday. I was a scotch and beer man myself but it would have to do. There was a stack of clearish ribbed plastic cups, 9 oz, the kind you might see at barbecues or whatever. I took the top one and filled it halfway with the peppermint schnapps. Gina was still stirring my pasta without further comment and I wasn’t sure she was right to begin with. About the solstice. If everyone had paid their bills had we still had a phone I would have jumped online to find out the exact time of the solstice and found out and everything would have been cool. But that wasn’t the case but I knew that be it yesterday or today it was over, and the days were only going to get longer from here on out. I downed half of the schnapps with that knowledge. I went back to the bathroom carrying the cup, vomited silently, waited, downed the rest and waited for vomit that did not come, thinking anyway, what’s the point of going to work drunk if I can’t keep it down, wanting to puke but not, waiting for the indignation to hit me full and it did, with the liquor.
I went back to the kitchen and the freezer for a little more schnapps and the guy on the couch (must be a random friend of Craig’s I thought, a leftover) had switched to MSNBC and was watching now in a half lotus, meditating on the flashing Christmas lights and the chirping voices discussing cabinet appointments. At the freezer I was determined to hold it down (6:19) but I was living in a world where everyone was content with lack of motion. This was Portland Maine and I had found out through my many temp assignments and my night job at the movie theater that not only was this life for everyone, but they advertised it proudly. This was Portland Maine, where the residents wanted the respect of a city but kept itself a town. The people here said they wanted to stop everyone moving to the suburbs, but nobody wanted an apartment building to be built in their section of the city. They wanted industry, but would not make it easy for people to come here. Parking was invisible, busses were few and almost non-existent outside of M-F-9-5. Everyone agreed that they needed to grow, to make people stop thinking that Portland was just another tourist stop along Route 1, that it was its own thing, but kept building hotels. The sign at the Maine border at I-95 said The Way Life Should Be. This had never been life for me.
Everyone I had worked with or lived with was in a marriage or a relationship. Boyfriends never insisted on regular when their girlfriends ordered Diet Coke, everyone was happy to talk about nothing but the weather, everyone was as bland and as predictable as they appeared and everyone approved and nobody complained. For this I found it hard to blame the people because it seemed like they wanted it this way. That they would not take advantage of the benefits of a 24 hour city. Wouldn’t know how. And I didn’t understand why and here I was in all of this, taking one last look around the house before I left, thinking why, why as always, why, why, why. There must be some good reason for it. Everyone I’d kicked out over the months I’d lived here seemed surprised that I was furious over unpaid bills and rent. Nothing but Kinko’s was open 24 hours, bars and liquor ended at one and the only people that walked around alone were the homeless and the insane, and sometimes even they had partners, hell, there was enough to go around but why?
Still though, that day I could not step out the door quick enough. I was more free outside, even though I could not write as I could not inside (hands freeze versus people’s empty glances, you choose), even though a lot of things. The cars drove slow enough for me to run in between them and the streets were more or less empty, though I’d lit a cigarette deliberately, wanting to be seen, because I’d come up with a new line by which to embarrass anyone who would have been unfortunate enough to try and bum a smoke off of me that day. This is how the conversation would have gone down. He would have been a dirty hippy, clothes messed, deadlocked hair the color and thickness of cylindrical beef jerky, humble, saying:
“Hey man can I bum a smoke?”
Me, smoking: “No, I don’t smoke.”
Him, surprised, maybe a bit pissed: “What do you mean, man?”
Me, still smoking, hiding a smile: “I don’t smoke. I don’t have any cigs.”
Him, getting upset, pointing at my cigarette: “Well what the hell is that, man?” It would always be man, they’d always call me man, that was them, everyone was man but little did they know I deserved it.
I’d say, looking at my cigarette, surprised at the sight of it: “Oh. I guess I do have smokes. How strange. I don’t smoke, and I have cigarettes, and you do smoke, yet don’t have any?”
He might say: “So can I get one?”
I might say, if I wanted to be a dick about it: “Yeah, they sell them down at the market.”
He: but I’m broke. Me: Then it must be a bad time to be a smoker. He, calling me on it: You’re an asshole. Me: So was Picasso. He: So was Hitler. Me: Well you got me there son. I’d call him son to get him pissed at the condescension. He’d flip me off and be on his way. Because I was right, see? But nobody came up and asked. And I wasn’t sure that I would have started that anyway. I’d stopped giving out smokes but still. I never bummed, never bummed out. That was a good enough reason, I thought. Who’d said that anyway?
Well I was running in the dream because every pretty girl I ran into looked like my ex-girlfriend and this was true in real life too, more or less, she was still on the brain and didn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon and I was lost and suffocated and wanted to get back home to New York, not to be with her and not to deal with my ghosts but because it was the only sane place to me because it was the only type of place that I’d seen that it was possible to life the kind of life that it would be impossible to forget, the only place in the world that was strong enough to create the ghosts I couldn’t wouldn’t shouldn’t get away from. But I was running anyway; I had passed her on the way home from a bar and couldn’t understand why she was in my city and it was her, looked and walked and quacked like her, it was her but some other version of her, the version of her that had lived a life without having met me. She didn’t forget, she’d never had it but I knew, and I saw this girl in the dream walking with friends that should not have been hers but were and she looked at me like she may have, in some other world, known me and understood me. But she did not. And it was her face but her face amongst the buildings of this rotted place, even then, so I stood after her waiting for her to turn around. I was sure she would but she didn’t so I ran. What I would have said, I thought, though I knew I would have said nothing, so I ended up thinking, what I could have said and that was then I started running. Just to get some memory back.
I was still walking to work (6:23) and was growing more furious and angry by the growing steps. Every step made the snow a little more brown, a little closer to home. Don’t move to Maine unless you like irony, I wanted to work into conversation but never did. But I hate you, I’d say to the ex only I would never see her again. Six months; and it’s only best I would never see her again. Because who wants to make a fool out of themselves? Yet everyone here goes out of their way. There were ghosts here, Portland Maine, and there were ghosts in New York, and I was moving there, to be closer to them. Every snowy step.
I couldn’t work, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t go on with all of this, I couldn’t forget. Yet I was. And I am and there must be some good reason. Because I learn I suppose, every good reason that is out there and I dream all of this up because it will all happen someday. Someday I will go on. I will go to work and my boss will tell me not to worry because there’s plenty of people here tonight and I can finish my cigarette before I go inside. Even though I come from a world where lateness was unacceptable, not to them but to me and here it was always slow and there was never any rush. No wonder I dream, no wonder I long to get back (6:27). No wonder I’m going.
Anger is a ghost, too, and every woman I see reminds me of this but it’s really okay, because it needn’t be this plain, it needn’t be this empty, it needn’t be these streets I can’t forget, it needn’t be this particular defeat that I hold myself to. And if this is a confession, so be it, maybe we all need to confess everything once in a while, but in the worst of the depths I tell myself that they’re only part right, it’s not the confession but the articulation, not only the getting through but the management and what you do with it, your time (6:28), not only the voices through the cheap floors but the listening, and it’s not so bad to love your ghosts because you made them. The theater lights glow and only the most hardcore smokers are lingering, without jackets, without gloves, and it’s 23 degrees. I’ll say to whomever asks: I’ll look at these streets as long as I have to.
The next time I woke up it was 2001 and I remembered my own love was a way out and that things were still as I’d made them. It was a good time to be alive in America and it was good time to be walking on. And I’ll never lose interest in the contrast, never lose interest in my mild nasal spray addiction, never lose interest in what brought me here. There must be some good reason, so check it out: tow my car, take my money, rip me apart, lay my belongings on the floor to find the actual significance of what I’m doing. Then you’ll see.
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