The Process

Month: December, 2014

Dear 2014: More Questions

Every new knowledge brings with it the awareness of knowing less, so rather than resolve to do anything, how about trying to solve some of the mysteries 2014’s wisdom brought about?

  1. If everything is just temporary, then what?
  2. If the minute you die, you die, then why is living hard more important than just being alive in the breathing sense?
  3. Is thriving really more important than surviving, and if you become someone, then what?
    1. We all die, so isn’t success and/or fame irrelevant?
  4. Is life short or long?
  5. Are any events in life really positive or negative, or is everything just absolute value?
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The Lost Kids

EIGHT

“Gretchen.  Gretchen.  Wake up!”

“Wha?”

“What are you doing out here?”  I look up, and Vanessa is looking down at me, expression both concerned and annoyed.  I look around, and I am in fetal position in the corner outside the door to our apartment.

“I couldn’t get in last night.”

“Do you have your keys?”

“Yeah, but I think I lost the one to our door.”

“Alright.  Well I can make you a copy later.  Come inside.  Jeez!  I can’t believe you slept out here all night.  Like, someone could have hurt you out there.  I don’t understand why you didn’t just call me or something.”  By the time I got home, she probably was already up eating her oatmeal with banana and flax before the gym, but who’s to say for sure.  I walk into the apartment and sit in my chair, dazed.  I mindlessly thumb through my bag to take inventory of my belongings.  Cards, keys, phone, shamrock…Where is my shamrock?

Earlier in the year, an old lady in the park came over to me and my friend and gave us each a four leaf clover that she had mounted on card stock with Scotch tape, each with the date of the find on the back.  I wouldn’t say I had any great luck since then, but I believe in a self fulfilling prophecy, and if I felt lucky, maybe I was projecting luck on my own life.  Well, now it’s all up to chance again.  Maybe it’s better that way.  Keep the superstition to a minimum; take no scapegoats.  “I would totally stay and listen to whatever crazy stories you have from last night, but I’m running late for the gym.  Want to do lunch sometime this week?  We really need to catch up.”

“Sure.”

“Are you OK?”

“Yeah…I’m like totally great,” I respond, making a mild effort to communicate in her basic tongue.

“OK, bye!”  She leaves, and I am relieved of her frantic energy.  If I were her, I probably wouldn’t have to go to the gym.  Just burn off all the calories with my nervous energy.  I feel better after sleeping a few hours, but I still have a creeped out vibe from what happened with Izzy.  Oh well.  The clock says it’s eleven.  Not bad for my Saturday; I still have a full weekend ahead of me.  I reach for Vanessa’s copy of the Times, but then I remember that it’s Tuesday, and the food section won’t be out until tomorrow.  My brain is running at half speed, but I don’t feel like going back to sleep.  Still, I retreat to my room and lay on top of my unmade bed.

I text Hem, Hey dude.  where are you?  brunch?  do you have work shit today?  i’m back at home now.  I get up and shower, dropping my razor, the soap, the shampoo bottle…basically everything as I attempt to clean up my hair, body, and conscience.  You can’t unsmudge a conscience with soap.  It takes tougher stuff.  Turpentine, maybe. I think to myself.  I laugh.  So funny.  Not so funny

When I get out of the shower, I check my phone.  Hem responded, back at my hotel in soho.  the boss has a crush on me.  i don’t have to work this trip lol.  i’ll come to queens if you make eggs.  I text him back, cool.  bring eggs.  i have bread.  wait, it’s moldy.  bring bread.  

Hem buzzes in an hour later, and by then, I’ve composed myself a little and put on my favorite slippers—fuzzy, evil, cyclops bunny slippers—and my raggedy flannel bathrobe I found at a flea market.  I’m only allowed to wear the robe when Vanessa isn’t home, because otherwise she breaks into impassioned soliloquies about the dangers of bedbugs passed on through old clothing and how girls our age shouldn’t succumb to the trend of looking homeless for the sake of fashion, because we have standards to uphold, and all the rest.  It’s really just super comfortable, and I can’t see how some silk kimono bullshit could hold a candle to it, but whatever.  I think her mom used to put her in pageants as a child or something.  It’s unclear.  I open the door, and he’s there, looking disheveled but also mildly refreshed.

“So you and Izzy, huh!” He grins, elbowing me in the ribs.  “Girl, what is this robe?  I love it.  It’s like classic grandpa.”

“Thanks, I know.  It’s the best.  And…um…no, nothing happened.”

“I thought you went back to her place!”

“I called her Jenna.”

“I see.”  He places his grocery bag of breakfast items on our kitchen table.  “Well if it makes you feel any better, after Hannah and I did some more coke, I shit my pants a little and had to go home.”  I laugh and almost choke on the water I’m trying to drink.  “It was my fucking unicorn boxers, too.  I just threw them out.  I’m so disappointed.”

“It’s ok; we’ll find you some new boxers.  It won’t be the same, but life goes like that.  I lost my shamrock last night.”

“Aw, no!”

“Yeah.”  I open the plastic bag, and take out the eggs.  “Dude, why did you get a baguette instead of like white, wheat, or rye bread or something?”

“Please.  I can’t eat that crap anymore.”  Oh, OK.

“Well excuse me for living in America.  Alright, fine.”  I toast pieces of baguette and drizzle them with some of Vanessa’s expensive olive oil.  Hopefully she didn’t weigh this on her psychotic gram scale before leaving, because I don’t feel like getting into that battle.  I make a soft scramble with six of the eggs.  Although I’m more of a fried eggs person, the idea of a runny yoke does not sound nice right now.  We eat in silence, for all of the two minutes it takes us to scarf up our breakfast.

“Let’s go spoon in your bed.  I just want to lay down.  I can’t do it today.”

“I’m little.”

“Fine.”  We go into my room and snuggle under my itchy blankets, which I also got at a flea market.  “Are you a horse?  Like why are these blankets so itchy?”

“They’re nice blankets!”

“So are you OK, Gretch?  I thought you were over Jenna…It’s been like over a year already.”

“Yeah…I thought I was over it too, but I still have these flashbacks, and I think sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have cut her out of my life.  I kind of feel like when you’re so close with someone like that, you exchange parts of yourselves.  I know that sounds so fucking cheesy.  But like when you lose them, it takes a long time to repair or find the half of yourself you gave up.  I don’t know what I’m saying.  I’m kind of delirious.”

“I get you though.  But maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.  You never know if maybe your new path in life will bring you something better or put you on the right path to your destiny.”

“But I don’t believe in that, dude.  Wait take your hands off my stomach…No, that’s my boob.  What are you doing!”

“Sorry!  You know I like boobs,”  he giggles.  “But continue.”

“Well I just don’t think things are just meant to be.  Or that everything happens for a reason.  That’s such a bad excuse.”

“What about God or religion?  You must have some belief system…”

“Pff…no way.  To me, that’s the ultimate sham.  Something good happens, it’s because of God.  Something bad happens, it’s because of God.  God is the ultimate scapegoat that humans created to explain the inexplicable.  Heaven is the coping mechanism to counter the possibility of eternal nothingness.  Hell is the fable to keep humans in check.  To me, everything is a matter of chance.  You and I are a cluster of cells, just like anything else.  Our intelligence allows us to think otherwise.  But to me, it’s more likely that each of us is a cell in a greater body than that each of us is a person placed on earth by God, and that if we do good, we go to a cooler place, and if we do bad, we go to a shitty place.  That’s the most basic idea I’ve ever heard.”

“Jesus Christ…I don’t even think my brain can get on that level right now.  Ratchet it down a bit, OK there, Socrates?”

“Sorry.”

“You’ve really never believed in God?”

“I used to.  I used to go to Church.  But when I was twelve, I decided that God must be a dude sitting on a couch, watching us all on TV and just kinda laughing and drinking white Russians.  Like The Big Lebowski.”

“What the fuck, girl?”

“My friends were really awkward, and we got bullied a lot, and my parents were gonna get a divorce, and all this shit.  It was a strange time.  And then, when I was in high school, I decided that God must be a dominatrix.  Because everything about those four years was just painful.  And I felt like the faithful sub of the universe.  I was a dramatic kid, not gonna lie.”

“No shit…  I can’t believe we’ve never been over this topic.  You’re ridiculous.”

“Well, by the time I turned seventeen, I realized that the God thing was not for me.  So there you have it.”

“Want to make some whiskey-coffees and watch a movie or something?”

“Yes.”  I brew a pot of coffee with the last grounds that I have.  “What about tequila?  The only whiskey I have is the last of this Pappy Van Winkle that I’ll probably never get my hands on again.”

“Tequila is fine.”

“You know what, though?”

“What?”

“Let’s fucking do the Pappy.  Tomorrow is never certain.”

“You want to put Pappy Van Winkle in your coffee?  That’s sacrilege.”

“It’s healthy to act old money sometimes, in the height of your poverty, dude.  And like, what if every time we go to sleep, we wake up in a new body?  And life is just like a bunch of souls playing musical chairs in all the bodies?  I want to be the one to drink the Pappy.”

“Whatever you need to postulate, as long as I’m drinking Pappy Van Winkle in the morning with my best friend.”

“Exactly.”

The Lost Kids

SEVEN

Since it’s a Monday, there’s no real line to speak of at Electrode.  We get in, get creepy little red armadillos stamped on our wrists for entry, and grab gin and tonics at the bar.  I always love the way the quinine glows around black lights, so gin and tonics are my club drink of choice.  That is, when Jay Z isn’t buying bottle service for me and my crew.  You know.

The club is basically empty, which would be depressing, but we are all having too much fun on our own to give a shit. Plus, the DJ is so discouraged by the turnout that she has granted our requests and started drinking herself into oblivion.  Hem and I are dancing our stupid dances and singing like the idiots that we are.  High or not, I am always aware of the strangeness when we’re dancing to rap.  It looks something like if you watched the characters dancing in Charlie Brown’s Christmas but replaced the festive music with Nicki Minaj.  “Fucking little whores are fucking up my decors…couldn’t get Michael Kors if you was fucking Michael Kors!” we scream, laughing.  Some people think Beethoven’s Ninth is a classic…but really, what’s more exquisite than “Dance A$$ Remix?”  Answer: few things.

Izzy dances over to me and leans in close to my ear.  “Want to go do some more of this?”

“You have the blow?”

“Yeah.  I took the rest with us.  Kinda figured we might want it…Let’s go!”  I follow her to the bathroom, not really worried anyone else would see.  Hem and Hannah are square dancing to “Get Silly,” and the DJ is half asleep at her post.  The bartender is talking to the only other three people in there, who seem to be a group of German tourists.   “Hem told me he surprised you tonight coming to the city.”

“Yeah!  I had no idea he was coming.”

“That’s really awesome.”  She opens the door to the women’s room.  It’s small, damp, and dim, but the sink has flat sides, which is satisfactory for our snorting pleasure.  She does a line and then cuts one for me.  When I come up from the sink, I’m face to face with her, and she leans in, her nose close to mine.  I must look surprised, because she smirks and says, “you didn’t really come in here with completely innocent intentions, did you?”

“Well, I—“ she leans in and brushes her lips against mine.  What the fuck?  I really did think this girl had a boyfriend, but maybe that old dude in her profile picture is her dad.  That shit can happen.  So I go in for a full kiss, and it’s good, but then there’s a knock on the door.

“Guys!”  It’s Hannah.  Hm.  “Do you have the stuff in there!”  Goddamnit, Hannah.

“I’m gonna let her in, but let’s just go back to my place,” Izzy whispers.

“Alright.”  We open the door, and Hannah looks mildly confused.  Is that dude in her profile picture her boyfriend or her dad?  I ask her, telepathically.  She doesn’t get my message, so I remain in the dark.

“Hannah, here.  I’m feeling kinda shitty, so Gretchen is gonna walk me home.  Sorry…I’m really just too drunk.”

“Um, bullshit, but OK.  Have fun, guys!”  Hannah is too perceptive and has too high a tolerance to all substances to miss a beat.  Oh well.  She doesn’t give a shit.

We wander back to Izzy’s place off Union Square, which seemed a lot closer when we left the bar.  However, it’s still not very cold out, which wouldn’t really matter at this point anyway, so the walk doesn’t suck.  She lives in a tiny studio.  It makes sense, considering anything more in that area would require some financial set-up like Hannah’s.  The paper really doesn’t pay enough for them to even look sideways at Manhattan, but neither of them will look anywhere off the island.

“Do you even have a sink or kitchen in here?”

“No…just a bathroom.  I don’t cook, so it’s not a big deal.  I just live on dollar pizza.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” I look at her, at once jealous and turned on.  I had to give up my dollar pizza diet, because my body was not having it.  Or my pants were not having it.  You know.

“Think I look good, then?” she smiles, goofily, and comes closer to kiss me again.

“Maybe.”  She pushes me onto her bed, which is barely a feat, considering it is more difficult not to fall onto it in such a  small space.  As she kisses me, her long brown hair brushes over my chest, sending a chill through my body.  She’s even more beautiful than I thought she was before.  Lucky me.  As she takes off my clothes and continues to kiss my body, I become aware that I still can’t feel all that much.  Oh, alcohol, the thing that at once lures us to bed and kills the fun.  Oh well.  Nothing wrong with play for play’s sake.  “Mmm.  That’s good, babe.  Hm, fuck–Jenna…”  Oh, shit.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.  What?”

“No.  Who’s Jenna?”  Goddamnit.

“No one…It’s just my ex…It’s not even a big deal.  Don’t be so upset!”  Izzy looks entirely displeased, and I can’t really blame her.  Awkward.

Jenna was my writing professor at school.  Professor Gransford, I should say.  I took an intro class my second year in college, and she was this new professor fresh off the boat from England.  Everyone in my class hated her, because she made us work so hard.  She was so funny about it, too, because she acted like she had no idea she was doing it.  She would have us workshop each other’s writing in class some days; other days she would lock us all in the classroom and blast trap music the entire period.  Then she would post homework online, and it would be like, “read ninety pages of such and such book and then write a ten page essay on how such and such relates to such and such.”  And usually it would be completely difficult, and everyone got an F.

I found it intriguing.  F on everything.  Of course there would be a curve, but what a nightmare.  And then this one day, I wrote a paper about how the two subjects had nothing to do with one another, and how the proposed topic was a load of shit, and I got a D.  A D!  A glorious, shining D.  So naturally, I was the one who ended up with an A in the course, but that’s besides the point.  After I got the D on the paper, I felt I had cracked her code and therefore felt entitled to visiting her in her office and having these intellectual spars every now and then.

And that’s where I fell in a little.  Of course I was attracted to her earlier on: she was gorgeous.  Long, brown hair, green eyes…she was only thirty and looked twenty-five at most.  But it was the office visits that got me.  I wouldn’t say she was as funny as I am, but she could hold her own in a battle of wit.  And I never really met anyone else who could.  Plus, that British accent thing…I’d be lying if I said even a bum with a British accent didn’t turn me on just slightly.  But nothing ever came of it for a while.  Until this one day.

Since I knew I was going to fail the next assignment anyway, I wrote an essay on why hairless cats are a superior species to humans and would ultimately take over the world.  It was completely unrelated to the assigned topic.  So, of course, I got an F.  But on my paper, Jenna had written, “I have three.  Come visit them today at five,” with her address below.  I absolutely wasted no time on that one.  I went to her house, and, as promised, she did have three Sphynx cats.  Hansel, Gretel, and Bill.  Bill was kind of the loner, which seemed appropriate.  I played with the cats a while, as Jenna and I argued about whether we thought the nerdy engineering students in the class were wearing Nike sneakers as shoes ironically or genuinely.

We had a few beers while we talked. After a while, I realized that it was late, and I had work to catch up on after spending the previous night writing bullshit about hairless cats dominating the world.  I made moves to leave, and she walked me to her door.  I was saying goodbye and something about how she shouldn’t fail me on the paper, since she should have faith in her cats taking over the world, and she cut me off.  I’ll never forget—she just looked at me and said, “you’re such a wanker.”

I looked up, because I had developed a nervous habit of avoiding eye contact with her sometimes.  And she just kissed me.  Just like that, and all of a sudden, I’m outside my damn body, watching myself take this lady’s clothes off against her living room wall.  I had been with plenty of girls before, but this was totally different.  The smell, the taste, the feel…it was at once the most energizing and slow experience of my life.  I felt colors.  That’s all I could really say to get near describing it.

I was with Jenna over the next two years of school, in secret, of course.  That was very fucking hard, being with someone I loved that much and not being able to tell anyone.  Seeing her and having to act like I didn’t even know her.  It was exciting, feeling like I had this big secret, to be sure.  Sneaking quickies in her car before classes and then exiting ten or so minutes apart to keep a low profile.  But it got exhausting after a while.

I had planned to stay in Evanston with her after graduation, but I had to abort that mission.  April of my senior year, I walked in on her sucking the department head’s dick in her office.  Even though our arguments about the future had been getting worse, I never suspected any bullshit like that.  And the whole fucked up thing, too, is that I tried to let it go.  But in the end, she actually went with that guy.

The last thing she had said to me was, “who I am with you is just not who I am meant to be.”  Not who she was meant to be.  Not who she was meant to be.  The words still haunt the little rhythms in my life.  When I chop, my knife makes the sound: Not-who-I-was-meant-to-be.  When I walk, when I scrub my dishes.  It’s totally a disaster.

I moved to New York right after school and didn’t answer her calls for the first six months.  I had started to let go of her, but she called again recently, and I picked up.  We talked a dead talk, and at the end, she said she was pregnant.  I was silent for a long time.  Are you there?  She had said.  No.  I had answered, and I hung up.  Then, I took the last letter she wrote me, after I left, which said,

“Gretchen,

All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist…it is just an illusion we have here on earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone, it is gone forever.

Always yours,

Jenna” (a quote from her favorite author, Vonnegut), and wrote on it in red Sharpie, “Then you are sucking Sutner’s dick for all of eternity.  –G” and put it in the mail.  I haven’t returned her calls since.

Things are too awkward now, with Izzy, so I get my stuff and leave.  “Sorry, Iz.  I really didn’t mean anything.”

“I’ll talk to you later.”  I get on the train back to Queens, and although I don’t feel good surrounded by the stale air of the subway, it beats the bright sun coming up outside.  I put on my headphones to try to drown out the feelings.  But the come-down is on me, and soon my cheeks are hot and wet with my tears.  I try to decide what the fuck I’m crying for, because I haven’t in so long.  I am sad that all this, all these people, all these places will be gone so soon.  Mortality.  I cry for mortality.  And in this moment, I am aware that I am being weak.  Aware that I am being dramatic.  But I wrap myself up in the weakness and the drama like a big bear skin, and I am all of it.

Autobiography of a Skinless Mind: 8: Eating Out

“Is it enough, though?” I pressed
them, as we walked in the iced wind, in
the dark.  The restaurant’s walls had been of brick
and fake brick.  I felt the calculated
awkwardness of the girl pushing my
chair under my ass–like first
sex–gentle, yet firm–was it
firm?  I scooted in.  “The price
you pay is not for the wine but the
privilege to ask why it’s not at your place
on time,” I conjectured.  “It needed
salt.  Salt, salt, salt.  The free-est
ingredient.  So stingy, sometimes.  “Lobster.”
“Lasagna.”  “Women’s room.”  Oh my,
then what is it?  Who am I?  “Shaina.”  Is
it enough, though?

The Lost Kids

SIX

The rest of the work week is all the same.  Searing, basting, passing, yelling, oui-ing, peppering, white peppering (even worse).  And then it ends, like it does every Monday, and I wonder whether I should drink it all away or go home, sleep, and get “more” out of my days off.  And, like I do each Monday, I choose to go out, because Tuesday is never certain, as life goes.

I pull off my black socks in the locker room and put on my weekend socks of choice—indigo with green toes today.  When you’re a cook, you develop little psycho rituals to try to separate life inside the restaurant from life outside.  Mine is sock changing.  I consider wearing black socks in the real world a sign of giving up, conformity, and loss of identity.  I think Mr. Rogers was spot-on, although I don’t think we ever knew where he was coming from that he was so dressed up before the show…an affair?  Was he cheating on us, his loyal viewers?  Who can say…

I walk out the back door, and it’s raining.  Not too bad, but holy hell—it’s warm for the end of January.  I take off my hat and put it in my bag…wait, where is my purse?  Goddamn it, it’s back in the locker room…I better go get it before one of the dish washers orders pizza with my credit card again.  Fucking A.  I turn around to go back in, and when I do, my heart jumps into my throat.  “Surprise, biatch.”  It’s Hem.

“Oh my god, dude, what the fuck are you doing here!”  I jump on him, attempting to hug him and possibly squeeze the life out of him for scaring me like that.  “I don’t get it!  It’s you in the flesh!  How?  Why aren’t you in Paris?”

“The job I landed working with that paper sent my boss to New York on business, and he took me with him!”

“Of course.  Naturally.  Because why wouldn’t you be on a business trip a month after you started legally working in France…Only you, man.  Jesus.”

“I know…Come on!  Let’s go!  I can already taste the Fernet.  I really need a break from absinthe.  I’m finally starting to like it, but it took weeks of faking it.”

“On that Stockholm Syndrome then?”

“Almost.”

“OK, let me just run back in and get my purse.  I’ll be right there.”  I run in, and as I’m turning into the locker room, I see Don holding my bag.  “Son of a bitch…Don, hands where I can see ‘em.  There will be no pizza ordering today.  Not on my watch.  Jesus.  I leave for one second.”  Don laughs as I snatch my bag out of his hands and take inventory of my cards.  “I know you stole my doubloons, asshole.  I needed those for laundry, but whatever.”  Ain’t nobody got time to fight for three dollars in quarters, and we don’t even have an HR department to speak of, anyway.  Don walks back to the dish pit, pockets jingling, and I run back outside.  “Let’s go, Nicholas.”

“Ay!”  He hates when I call him by his first name.

“Niiii-cho-laaaaaas!” I taunt him to the tune of the Ricola commercial.  He looks playfully annoyed, so I run toward the bar, continuing the chant, as he chases me.  He can’t catch me, because he smokes too much and has terrible lungs.  I, on the other hand, am designed for a quick getaway with my small, light frame and freakishly functional heart and lungs.  I never work out, but I can run like a Kenyan if need be.  When he looks winded after a couple blocks, I stop and let him catch up.  “I assume you want to hit up The Nail first?”

“Duh!”  The Nail is our favorite bar downtown.  Before Hem moved away, the bartenders knew us as “the kids that come in and take down a whole bottle of Fernet in a night.”  One has reputations to uphold in this life.  You know.

“Can I get a double Fernet and ginger, please?” I ask the bartender.  “Actually, make it two.”

“Keep it open?”

“Ou—er, yes.”

“Oui oui oui oui oui,” Hem teases me.

“Well who’s French now, motherfucker?”

“Mmmeeeee.”

“Gretchen, I haven’t seen you in here in a while,” the bartender says.

“Sorry—what’s your name?  Have we met?  I have a shitty memory.  Slash I been drankin’.”

“Uh…I’m Tom…you gave me your number a few weeks ago and invited me to your friend’s holiday party.  I couldn’t go, but I thought maybe we could go out sometime soon?”

“Awkward…yeah that sounds about right.  Sorry, Tom.  Nice to meet you again!”

“Well do you—“

“Thanks, Tom!” I lift my drink and walk back to a table with Hem, laughing.  Poor Tom.  Balding, ginger Tom who is probably just a few years older than us but looks forty and probably hasn’t gotten laid since junior year of high school.  Hem giggles and pulls up a meme on his phone to show me.  It’s two pictures of a scene in Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet.” One is captioned, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks.  It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”  And then the picture of Juliet is captioned, “I’m a lesbian.”

“Ha!  That’s amazing.  I could use a t-shirt of that.  Anyway, tell me about your life!  I can’t even believe you’re sitting next to me right now.  This is the best thing that’s happened to me all winter.”  We talk some, but soon Hem decides we should dance, and I can’t disagree, because the DJ has put on ’90’s music.  We dance on, and then I feel a tap on my shoulder.  Please don’t be Tom.  I turn around to find three of my old co-workers from the hot minute I worked at a magazine after college.  “Daryl!  Hey, girl.  What are you doing here?”

“We never got our shit together for a company holiday party, so a month later we decided to get drinks here and then go back to Hannah’s to continue the fun.  We’ve been here like three hours already.  Do you guys want to join?  She lives like three blocks from here.”  I’ve been to Hannah’s a few times, and it is close.

“Dude, this is Daryl, Hannah, and Izzy.  I worked with them at PaperJam.  Want to go to Hannah’s for a little?”

“Wait is this the girl you told me gave her cab driver a hand job for a free ride?” he whispered in my ear.

“Yes…Shhh!  Not everyone knows she did that,” I grinned, knowing he was intrigued.

“Let’s go!  These people sound awesome.”

“Alright, D, we’re in.  Vámonos.”  We walk to Hannah’s, and when we get inside, I am overcome with jealousy.  This bitch lives in a huge two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown, and one of the rooms is vacant because her mom “uses it for business.”  That means she stays there once a month when she goes out in the city and feels too drunk to go back to Staten Island.  Must be nice.  Hannah occasionally rents it out on Airbnb so she can afford drugs, but usually she just uses the bedroom as a crashing place for friends.  I guess I could feel fortunate for that bit.

Hemingway decides he’s become close enough with Hannah after he establishes that they’re wearing matching Toms, so he takes it to the next level by asking if she has any blow.  Normally, I would worry he was making an ass of himself, but everybody loves him from the get-go and never questions his sometimes brash idiosyncrasies.  Of course, Hannah has a bunch of coke, since she was away last week and rented out both of her rooms.

“What can we do it off of?” Hem looks around for a flat surface, none of which seem to exist.  You would think someone with money would have a table, but that’s not always so.

“Oh, here.”  Hannah grabs her full-size mirror off the wall and lays it on top of Daryl and Izzy, who are passed out drunk in her bed.

“Well, that’s ratchet…but I guess we never claimed to have standards,” I laughed.  Hannah hands us a rolled up $50. “Bitch, are you serious?”  I unroll the bill to see what it looks like.  Well, I won’t be seeing a bill this big in a while.  C’est la vie.  To me, it’s healthy to act old money when you’re really piss poor once in a while.  It’s good for self esteem.  I roll it back up and cut three lines.  “You first, Frenchie.”

The drunken fatigue wears off, and then we do a couple more bumps.  Hem turns on The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” and we all get on the extra bed and jump around.  “Mix your milk with my cocoa puff!  Milky, milky cocoa puff!”

Izzy rolls over, knocking the mirror off the bed.  “Ugh, guys…whyyyyy…”

“Iz, come on!  This is your favorite song!”

“What?  I hate Fergie…What are you talking about?” She looks confused.

“Izzy, we’re gonna go to Electrode.  Wanna come?” Hannah asks.

“No…what the fuck?  I’m so tired.”

“Come with us!” I shout.  I don’t talk to Izzy much, because I find her mildly too attractive to hold a conversation with, but I’m not about inhibitions by now.  I didn’t even know we were going out again, but I could continue the party.  It’s only two thirty, so the club will be open another hour and a half.  And it’s right down the street.

Hem is grinding his teeth around, and I really can’t feel my face either.  It’s like you never really know you’re high until you’re numb or you see the sun come up.  Or you’re dancing on a bed to Fergie.  Well, I suppose that would make you either high or a sober twelve year old, but let’s not overthink things here.  Surprisingly, and much to my excitement, Izzy is getting up to come out with us.  She bumps some coke off her keys and tucks Daryl into bed.  She has a meeting at nine tomorrow, so we don’t wake her up to join us.

“You guys are stupid,” Izzy grins, catching my eye as we walk out the door.  Aha.  This could be a good night.

Autobiography of a Skinless Mind: 4: Reptile

I dressed up as a starving hooker
for my grandfather’s funeral.  It was a cold day on the island
for September, so
while I waited to leave the house, I lay down
on a large rock in the sun. |I was a reptile|  We

threw ashes and lilies around the land
and water.  |They took their
hurt with a side of bundt cake|  Who is
the girl in the pink skirt on the rock?  The
one with the blue lips.  Is that a
dead hooker?  No, that is his

granddaughter.  I ran my fingers over
my tin ribcage and felt disappointed with the
tenacious beatings coming from within.  |Fickle
heart the heart is a fickle
whore|  The rock was spattered with
dried bird shit, I remember.  It didn’t
get on me, being dried and all.

The Lost Kids

FIVE

While I change, I think about my prep for the day…I’ll have to make the goddamn parsnip puree again, because Charlie forgot to steep the fucking sachet of herbs in the cream when he made it yesterday…gotta make pickled chestnuts, soak cherries in Armagnac, make roasted pear consommé, chicken skin chips, cut foie…It’s all definitely doable, and because of the law of hangovers (which states that all mise en place will get done miraculously early), I will be set.  If only I could get this fucking agar agar stain out of my apron, my life would be perfect.  But life is never that.

I walk into the kitchen and set about starting my day.  I gather all my shit and then get started on setting up the hot apps station.  During my first hour of work, I usually don’t talk much, just to make sure I’m headed in the right direction and so I don’t get in trouble for dicking around right off the bat.  After an hour and a half, when I’ve gotten my major projects out of the way, I usually start talking to Dennis.  Dennis works roast, and he’s usually pretty on point with picking up on my jokes, so we get along.  “Go out last night?” Dennis can tell when I’ve been out drinking regardless of any effort I make to look like a normal, healthy human.

“Sí.”

“What’d you do?”

“Creative drinking with Seamus.  You know.  The beers, then the ciders, then the wines…the equal opportunity drinking.”

“Anything else equal opportunity happen?”

“No, asshole.”  Thank fucking god…

“Hey, monsta’.  How ya doin’ this fine day?” I turn around, and It’s Andre.  Goddamnit.

“Hola, biatch.”

“How was your day off?”

“Why don’t you ask your mom?”

“So cliché, Gretchen, really.”

“Ask her!  OK, walk away.  Doesn’t negate the situation.”  Andre stalks away in a half-serious tizzy.  What a dildo.  Last time we all went for drinks, he got wasted on three shots of Fireball and proposed to me.  Beyond the fact that I thought only white yuppie girls and their boyfriends drank Fireball, I lost any shred of respect for him when I realized what a lightweight he was.  I mean…come on.  We’re cooks, are we not?  Get it to-fucking-gether.

“Nice,” Dennis grins, clearly relieved I have driven Andre away from our prep area.  Dennis hates Andre.  Mostly everyone has some disdain for him, but Dennis hates him most, ever since this one day in service a couple months ago when Andre sabotaged his mise.  Dennis had just gotten moved to roast, and Andre got stuck on entremet.  He’d been on that station for the past seven months, and he assumed he was next in line for roast, but Dennis jumped to roast from hot apps.  Dennis has natural ability, and Andre is just one of those people who will always be in the shits.  It’s as if he knows entremet like the back of his hand, but then he tripped acid and said “oh my god, man, who’s hand is that!”  Ever since the mise sabotage, they have been mortal enemies.

“I just can’t handle his love,” I start to complain to Dennis.  “It’s getting motherfuckin’ creepy, dude.  Like just because you have girlish hips doesn’t mean I’m gonna grant you access to my exclusively female dating pool.  Is that so difficult to understand?  Like one time I mentioned a guy I dated in high school when I was telling a story, and he goes, ‘oh, so you’ve dated guys before?’  Like oh…you got me…because you have made such a valid point, I suppose that I should date you, right?  Wanker.”

“Oui.  Wanker.”

“Oui.”  The first thing I’m gonna do when I get out of this kitchen is stop saying “oui.”  I’m not fucking French.  It’s a terrible habit, and I’m seriously over accidentally using it colloquially with non-kitchen friends and family.  I could almost think of nothing douchier.  Bartender: ‘Do you want to keep it open?’  Me: ‘Oui.  Er…’ Face palm.

We finish up prep and set up for service, and then we steal some bread from pastry in lieu of eating the grey meat that Charlie put up for family meal.  Fuck that shit.  I’m living proof that coffee, alcohol, and refined carbs (and one glass of water per month) are all a person needs to survive.  “Brah, let’s bust out this service and get the fuck out of here.  I’m tired, I want to go home, and I’m sick of cooking foie and scallops all night every night.”

“Oui.”  The first ticket comes in, and everyone on the line focuses up.  I return to my station down the line.

“May the odds be ever in your favor!” I announce, quoting the Hunger Games as I do every night.  Andre laughs his stupid laugh.  Service starts strong, and I’m selling scallops like foie never existed, which is unusual.

“Devon, fire one octopus.”

“Oui.”

“Puss on fire!” I smirk at Devon down the line.

“Grizzly, maybe some new material would be worth considering,” he laughs.  I do say that every night, but to me, it never gets old.  My hangover is starting to get a little exhausting, but it only makes me a little more delirious.  I’m not fucking anything up so far, so I’m in a good mood.  As long as Chef doesn’t throw anything back at me, I’ll call it a solid Monday.  Well, it’s Thursday, but my Monday.  You know.

“Hey, Jimmy, forty-two has a vegan for second course, but there’s a foie with it.  I’ll let you know when you can toss the salad.”  Elijah, one of our runners, laughs.  Jimmy doesn’t get it.  I look around, sort of bummed to have a joke fall on deaf ears, but then I see Dennis hunched over, trying not to lose his shit.  Great success…

“Oui, salad tossing postponed,” Jimmy replies, finally catching on.

“You know, Jim.  Gotta buy me a drink first.”

“Oui, chivalry.”

“Quiet the fuck down, please!”  Chef pretends he doesn’t like my shenanigans, but I know he appreciates some good sucio humor.

“Ouiiiiiiiiii.”  The whole line quiets to a hush.  Best not to push my luck…it’s gonna be a quiet service from here on out.  All I need to do is focus up, sear, baste, pass.  Sear, baste, pass.  And never forget to shut the fuck up.  That is key.  Around nine, Chef comes over and asks if I’ve been seasoning the scallops with salt and pepper.  “Just salt, chef.”

“Why the fuck are you not using pepper on the scallop?  I told you to fucking pepper the scallop, Gretchen.  So why is that not happening?”

“Oui,” I reply, not really intent on starting anything.  Fuck pepper.  Salt makes food taste amplified.  Pepper makes food taste like fucking pepper.  It makes no fucking sense to season everything with salt and pepper.  Why not season everything with salt and cinnamon?  It’s the same level of crazy.  Fuck pepper.  I kind of consider myself constantly in active rebellion against pepper.  I could practically argue against adding it to anything other than steak au poivre, just because it’s gotten to me that bad.  Chef leaves me alone, but I still can’t bring myself to season the scallops with pepper.  It makes them look stupid and taste stupid.  Around ten, Chef comes back and throws a scallop on my station.

“Pepper!  Where is the fucking pepper?”  By now, I’m too tired to give a shit.

“Black pepper as a seasoning goes against my moral belief system, Chef.”

“Oh, is that so?”

“I mean, yeah…it’s a spice…so…”

“Well you know what goes against my moral belief system?  Employing cooks who don’t do what the fuck I tell them to fucking do.  Yeah?  Do you want your job?  I could find thousands of cooks looking to fill your spot right now who would do whatever I told them to do.”

“Chef, I want my job.  I just…”

“I’m going to tell you to use pepper, and then you’re going to shut the fuck up and say ‘oui,’ or you can get the fuck out right now.  And you’re going to use it—not just say you will.  The door is that way.  Your choice, but we’re getting in the fucking shits waiting for your food.  Let’s fucking go.”

“Oui.”  If I didn’t have bills to pay, I probably would have walked out right at that moment, but I need the money.  Pepper it is.  Fucking A.

On my way out of work later, I pass Chef in his office.

“Gretchen, you better watch your attitude, you hear?”

“Sorry, Chef.”

“Do it again, and I’ll kick your ass out.”

“Oui.  But Chef, I’m the only girl.  Don’t you think that would look suspicious?  I mean, I noted my gender on my papers when I started working here, and I believe that was an optional move in case we needed to file a claim anytime down the road, so…”

“Gretchen…watch it,” Chef is slightly amused by my fake threat.

“I’m not trying to start anything, but what ever happened to the two brown guys that used to work here?  I’m just sayin’.”

“Go home.”

“Oui.”

“Gretchen!  Wait…are you going for drinks?” Andre pops up out of nowhere.  Goddamnit.  I wasn’t going to go, but if everyone is going, it could be fun.  Fucking Andre always has to ruin shit.

“I don’t know, man.  I haven’t been feeling really well lately, and I’m kinda hungover.”

“I noticed you’re off one of the days I’m off this week.  Tuesday, I think it is.  Want to grab a drink with me that night?  We can hit that bar you were talking about.”

“Um…thanks…but I don’t think that will be your scene.  I’m not really sure, but thanks.  I’ve been trying to do a lot of stuff in my free time, so I don’t have a ton of time for going out.”  Lie.

“Like what?”

“I’ve been going to a lot of museums and shit.”  Also untrue.

“Oh, well we should go to the MoMA together.  I’ve been wanting to check out this one exhibit lately.”

“Andre?”

“Yeah?”

“This will never happen.  Ever.  OK?  You’re a nice dude, but half of that statement disqualifies you from dating me.  And it’s not the nice half.”

He acts natural, as he likes to do.  “I just meant as friends.  God, Gretchen.”  Right.  Friends.

“Have you ever seen “When Harry Met Sally?””

“No…wh—“

“Well get with the fucking program and watch that shit.  I gotta go.  Bye!”  I walk out the door into the frigid January night.  What a wanker.

The Lost Kids

FOUR

I wake up in a strange mix of comfort and hazy stupor.  As I piece together the reality of the new day, beginning with the daily assessment of, “am I hungover?” followed by, “did I even drink last night?” (not drinking water warrants both questions), I become aware of another being.  Who’s arm is this arm that is not my arm?  Oh, goddamnit.  Please don’t be naked…Please don’t be naked…I turn over to see Seamus half-spooning me in his sleep.  Oh dear…well, we are dressed, and based on the evidence around me, I deduce the events of the previous evening: neon orange crumbs on the floor and in the bed, rolls of duct tape here and there, some shards of glass and sticky residue on the floor—we got white girl wasted and ate a bunch of Cheetos while trying to fashion shoes out of duct tape.  This happens sometimes…all in a night’s work.

I am too dazed to think, so I go into my living room and curl up in the lumpy easy chair.  By now, the shape of my ass is sunken into the poor thing.  At least I get good use out of it.  It’s leather, and I found it down in Alphabet City outside someone’s apartment while I was waiting to meet my friend Sasha for dinner.  I sat in the chair and quickly became attached.  Long story short, we canceled our dinner plans and devised a plan to get the chair back to Queens for free.  Truth be told, it did involve a mildly untrue post on TaskRabbit, which involved payment in beer.  Beer that did not yet exist.  So the guy who drove it back to Queens with us had to buy the beer himself.  I will say that the Christening of the chair party we had together made it worth his while (as threesomes do), so no remorse resulted.  I should really call Sasha to hang out sometime soon.  I miss that bitch.

I really wish that Seamus would go home.  I have to go to work in four hours, and all I want is to lay under my faintly Cheetos-stained down comforter and lament the awkward swimming in my head.  Possibly while eating a bagel.  Ah, a bagel.  Good idea.  I creep into my room and wake up Seamus.  It’s awkward, since I’ve never had to get him out of my bed before, but there’s simply no other solution that will get me back under my own covers quicker.  “Hey, Shay,” I tap his foot, which is jutting off the end of my bed.  “Seamus!  Let’s go!  Shay’s world!  Shay’s world!  Party time!  Excellent!”

“Gretch…stop it…nooooo.”

“Come on, dude.  Let’s go get bagels.  I’m starving.  Por fa-fucking-vor.”

We are still at the stage in our friendship where one degree of politeness and awkwardness is necessary, so he gets up.  He groggily gathers his things, assessing the sad duct-tape shoe he had worked on last night.  He tosses it in the garbage and then follows me out the door.  At the bagel shop, Seamus orders a cinnamon-raisin bagel with veggie cream cheese.  This is something I’ve only witnessed my Jewiest friends do, and it appalls me.  And I knew about it, early on, because my mom’s parents were Jewish, and they did it too.  But back then, I thought it was some old people thing where they were trying to find the highest fiber combination possible.  Not so.  I get my usual poppy bagel in a bag, untoasted, much to Ishan’s chagrin.  Ishan, the main counterperson, thinks all bagels should be toasted.  As much as I like him, I prefer when José works the counter.  José is probably eighteen years old and may or may not be in love with me.  The result is that he takes immense pride in remembering my order.  When he’s there, I enter, he tells me to cut the line, and he says, “poppy seed bagel in a bag, medium coffee, milk-no-sugar?”  And I smile and nod.  “Three dollars.”  Done.

We get our stuff to go, and I bid Seamus goodbye at the train before I shuffle away to go back to bed.  Well, I don’t shuffle away.  I have this awkward pirate-swagger-y walk I developed from the combination of years of fatigue and being mildly pigeon-toed.  So I do that.  Back at home, I take a shower, lint-roll the crumbs off my bed, and get back in.  Everything smells like wine.  I must have spilled some, but it’s unclear where.  Oh well.  I turn on Pandora and drift off again.

When I wake up, my chest hurts, and my stomach feels low in my body; my palms are wet.  I must be dying.  But as my brain shifts back onto the horizon, I become aware of the song coming through my speakers…”Annie are you OK, Annie are you OK, are you OK, Annie?”  A tear sneaks up in my left eye, and I push it back, turn off the music, and sit up, my back against the Bowie poster on my wall.  I slink down and hear it rip a little, but I’m in my head watching something else.  I’m back in Evanston, cooking dinner in Jenna’s house.  She’s watching “This is It,” the documentary about the dancers training for Michael Jackson’s final tour before he died.  She’s seen the movie seventeen times already, but it’s her favorite, and I don’t mind the repetition.  It’s worth witnessing her fascination throughout the documentary.  “Smooth Criminal” is her favorite song and routine in the show.  She’s obsessed with the lean.  How the hell do they do that?  She’s always trying to do it, so I’m constantly catching her before she falls to the ground.

I force myself to exit the vision and stop thinking about her; she doesn’t deserve the consideration.  Coming out of the flashbacks always reminds me of Harry Potter coming out of the pensieve.  It’s ridiculous, and the inability to forget is exhausting.

I pull myself together and get ready for work.  Pants, hat…apron…ah, goddamnit, I forgot to wash my aprons with the rest of my laundry…I’ll just wear one backwards…wait…where the fuck is my hat?  I rush out the door, since I’m cutting it close and need to pick up a new hat before work now.  Hopefully, Chef won’t bitch about my apron.  After only seven months at Downton, I am tiring of the douche-y, pretentious kitchen.  But fuck it—I need a job, and it’s good experience.  Once I’m there, I walk in the back door and through the kitchen to the locker room.  “Grizzly bearrrr, what up, girl?”

“Hey, Devon.”

“Sup, monsta?”

“Charlie.”

“Grizzlllllle!”

“Dan, hey dude.”

Luckily, no one is in the locker room anymore, because I’m a minute late.  I’m the only girl in the kitchen, so I always have to wait for the bathroom to be free if I want to change or just suck it up and change with the boys.  I wouldn’t really care, either, except for this one dude, Andre, is obsessed with me.  One has to send the right messages in this life if one does not desire to be hassled.  You know.

Autobiography of a Skinless Mind: 7.1: Tin Ribcage

Study of the conflict between skinless mind and continuously morphing mass of cells that is the body

Study of the conflict between skinless mind and continuously morphing mass of cells that is the body

Autobiography of a Skinless Mind: 1: Girl

When I was six, I started crying
in the backseat of our minivan on
the way home from Sports Authority. I

said “Dad, are you kidnapping me?” He
said “no,” as parents say to their
children’s invalid questions |that
is not a fact|.  Perhaps

that was my first encounter with
context-lifting.  |The mind exits the
situation and looks at it like a story
prompt in grade school: what do you
see here?|  The easy

path was to re-enter the daughter
self and feel the leather of my new
glove and see the hard new metal
bat and think of the softball that would
be played.  Solution for a plush bodied
human.  Days

come when your chipped off pieces are
patched up with tin.  Such armor
prepares us for extended lifting, enables full
sight.  I went into the

home of a strange man, and I
said, “are you my father?”  He, being
of tin as well, did not answer, knowing
the question was not altogether invalid |this
could be so|.  Only his eyes were foreign,
but then I hadn’t seen a mirror in
days or
weeks.  With the tin, as it goes,
blood forgets itself, occasionally.