The Process

Month: January, 2015

The Lost Kids

TWELVE

I walk into my building and run up the stairs, because apparently someone’s cat has died in its own feces again.  Once I’m safely in my room, I exhale in relief, my breath still heavy with Fernet.  I sit down on the end of my bed, take off my boots, and toss them into the corner.  They hit my trash, and a Heineken bottle falls into one shoe, dripping the last of its contents inside of it.  Goddamn it.  The way my feet smell, now with beer.  Frat boots.  Yum.  I’m about to change into pajamas, but I hear music coming from the room next door.

Normally, I don’t really pay attention to the sounds from beyond the wall, because it’s just unfortunate that the walls are so thin.  I would rather consider the voices part of the nature in Queens than invite the details of strangers’ routines into my own.  But this is different, because I’ve never heard music coming from next door.  It’s always just banter.  The song is slow and haunting, and although it has a familiarity to it, I’m sure I’ve never heard it before.  While I know it’s strange, I feel the need to find out more about it.  It’s possible I’m still a little drunk, but that’s never stopped me from doing anything.

I open my door and walk into the hall in my socks.  My toe pokes through the right sock onto the cold tile in the hall, and it bothers me.  The hallway floor in our building is no place for the toe of a lady.  I bend it to shrink it back into the sock to little avail.  Another song has started, and it sounds something like the first one.  I walk a few steps and put my ear to the neighbor’s door.  And maybe I’m just a bad person…well, baby, I know…my curiosity trumps my hesitation, and I see my fist rise up and knock on their door.  Fuck.  I think about running back into my place, but that seems stupid, so I wait when I hear footsteps approaching.

The door opens, and a pale, skinny guy with stringy brown hair opens the door.  “Hello?” he says.

“Um…Hi.  I’m Gretchen…” my face turns red, betraying my determination to play it cool. “I live next door.  I heard your music playing, and I thought it was great, so I was just curious what it was.”

“Because Shazam doesn’t exist and all.”

“Um…right…duh…”

“I’m kidding—just being an asshole.  I’m Jed.  Want to come listen?”  I look past him into his dim apartment.  For being next door, it looks far more dismal than mine, but I spot a record player behind him.

“Oh, it’s vinyl?”

“Yah…Of Monsters and Men.  You don’t know them?  Their song “Little Talks” was wildly popular like two years ago.”

“Oh, that’s why it sounded familiar.  Weird.  OK, now I look like a total retard.  Yeah, I’ll come listen to some.”  He opens the door, allowing me to walk through into his room.  It’s a studio, which surprises me, because I only ever heard about two or more bedroom apartments in the building.  He flips the record and starts the other side as I glance around to size up my surroundings.

The glass over the light on his ceiling is cloudy and has little shadows in it suggesting an insect graveyard, and the air is slightly more humid than in the rest of the building.  The smell of tobacco, weed, and sweat hang in the air, reminding me of the time Hem and I lived in a room in a frat house our sophomore year of college.  Jed seems about thirty-five, so I briefly wonder how he’s never heard of air freshener, windows, or even deodorant.  Strange.  “So what do you do?”

“I’m an actor.”

“Ah.”

“Kidding.  I dropped out of NYU ten years ago and I’ve been working at the corner grocery ever since.  That’s kind of just something to do.  I’m living off the money I got when my parents died.”

“Jeez, I’m sorry, dude.”

“Thanks.  I’m OK—it was a while back, while I was in school.  They were on this plane home from California, and something went wrong with the engine of the plane.  Only a few people survived the crash.  They thought my dad might make it, but he didn’t pull through the surgeries in the ER.  Anyway, not trying to air my sob story, so how about listening to the music?”

“Yeah, sure.”  After a song, he sticks his hand in a drawer in his desk and pulls out a small, lacquered wooden box.  He opens it, and holds it out:

“Drugs?”

“Dude, what the fuck is all that shit?”

“Whatever you want.”

“Are you the one who gets little packages in the mail downstairs all the time?  I always thought it might be some sort of Silk Road type situation.”

“Those are my packages, but all that shit is actually collectable Pokemon merch.”

“Actually?”

“Yes.  All this shit is from my boy at the store.  Xanex, Klonopin, molly, I have some weed over here if you prefer something a little lower on the guilt spectrum.”  His face is pale and drawn, and I suddenly realize I’m hanging out with a total junkie.  Awkward.  “If you’re into the harder stuff, I’ve gotta say, I’ve been listening to this music on heroin lately, and it’s like the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Fucking heroin?  Are you serious?  Like, the last thing I need in my life at this moment in time is to a) get addicted to heroin, b) overdose on heroin, or c) all of the above!”  He looks slightly embarrassed.

“Sorry…I…we can just listen…I smoked too much weed before, and, um—“

“No, it’s OK.  I’ll smoke some weed and listen to the other disk with you.  Sorry for being a drug prude, but just no in regards to heroin in general.  I would probably tell you that you should stop, but I’m not like your mom or anything.  Fuck….um…sorry.”

“OK, let’s just stop talking and smoke some.”  We take a couple hits from his bong, and he puts on the second disk.  I’m starting to relax after all the excitement from the events of the day, but I’m still trying to avoid thinking about whether or not to go back to work.  Curiosity gets the best of me after a while, and I re-open the conversation.

“Do they make your situation easier?  The drugs and shit?”  Jed looks up, eyes a little glazed.  He looks like he would be handsome if he took a shower and changed his shirt, and that makes me sad.

“For a little.  But it never goes away.  I’ve made my peace with it, though.  Hard to do, but I did.”

“God, dude, I couldn’t imagine what that fucking takes.”  I take another big bong hit and hold my breath while he begins to talk.

“Shit got so bad after they were gone.  I left school, I didn’t have any money, I lived on the street for a week.  But then my extended family found me and set me up here with the money my parents left me.  I wasn’t totally alone, but I wanted to be for a while.  I spent the first year in here just thinking it all through.  Trying to understand where to go from there.  I never really believed in religion…to me, the idea was that god was like some excuse…like just some sort of…”

“Like a scapegoat.”

“Yeah.  So after they were gone, trying to grapple with having no faith in heaven and knowing that they were gone-gone.  Forever.  Finding out that loss is permanent, not temporary.  That no one is ever ready to lose, but it happens, and that’s it.  Like, it changed the whole world for me.”

“How so?”

“I don’t keep anything now.  Everything I own, I consider a rental, and everything I buy, I throw out after a bit.  I delete my pictures, documents, whatever.  Being ready to lose everything at any moment feels more sensible to me.”  Fuck, this is some heavy shit I walked into.

“I understand that.  People love things and each other, and losing is such a major stress.  Like, losing people is terrible, but we maybe shouldn’t be so wrapped up in attaching ourselves to material things only to stress when they eventually break, get lost, stolen, et cetera?”

“Right.”

“I’ve never lived that way, but I am one for living for today over the future.  I don’t plan.  Just take each day as it comes and trust the adventure.”

“What do you mean ‘trust the adventure’?”

“Just to know that all good things in the past occurred on random days when maybe they were least expected, and that will continue to happen at any random time.  So if you trust the adventure, you accept that life could bring anything to you at any given time.  Bad or good.  And it’s a dead end, literally and metaphorically, because there’s no end-game to trusting the adventure.  We all end up in the dirt.  But it’s sort of like being open to existing, because all other methods of living involve goal-orientation, waiting, and future-living.  And we both know the future is highly uncertain.”

“I see you’ve thought a bit in your day.  How the fuck old are you?”

“Old enough to know better.”

“How old?”

“Twenty-nine.”

“Eighteen?”

“Twenty-four,” I grin.

“Well, twenty-four-year-old-Gretchen who trusts the adventure, what would you like to do today?”

“Today?  I was gonna go to bed before I came here.  It’s two AM now.”

“Night is a technicality, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes, but I’m actually really stoned now, and I’m tired as fuck.  I can’t believe I’m even talking right now.”

“Would you like to go to Canada tomorrow?”

“Canada?  I just lost my job.  I’m broke.  I mean…”

“I have a lot of money.  Let’s go.  Just like a week.  All of this trip is on me.  You can teach me to trust the adventure.”  I’m not entirely sure what to say, especially considering how high I’ve gotten, so I agree.  What else would I do during my indefinite unemployment?

“Alright, let’s talk in the morning.  I’m so fucking tired.  I’m going to bed, but if you still want to be my vacation sugar daddy tomorrow, text me.”  I put my number in his phone and say goodnight.  “It was nice to meet you, Jed.”

“Mm.”  He is smiling with his eyes half shut, slouched to the side in his navy beanbag chair.  I walk out of his place and shut the door, and I feel the cool tile on my right big toe.  Ew.  I walk into my place, lock the door, and face-plant onto the couch.  I don’t remember the last time I felt so tired.  And a little sad.  I drift off to sleep, and the little pit in my chest dissolves into the night.

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Last Call for Unicorns

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

I love you.

I love licking batteries, but batteries aren’t food.  And it’s not good for you.  Take the batteries out of your mouth, and put them back under the couch cushion where you found them.

Batteries?  Why?

The metallic taste is truth for me.  They’re cold on their own, round.

I don’t know why I love you, but I do, and I don’t even think you’re a good person or anything.  I don’t even know you.

These things happen.

Why?

Some people like to lick batteries.  Justification for society’s sake is not the only justification.  Reasons have multiplicity.

I think you’re beautiful.

You’re drunk.

Everyone says that, but I’m not.

Facts are not always bracketed to connotations.

Someone at the bar told me you’re a unicorn.

And

Well

Facts are not always bracketed to connotations.

I want to marry you.

These things happen.

What do I do?

Sleep on it in a pair of wool socks so you don’t get cold feet and then meet me in Vegas.

When?

Does your place have heat?

No.

Ah.  Let’s postpone the wedding to our next life.

But I love you now.

Meet me at this bar in ten years’ time.  We will always have Paris.

Paris?

I believe that’s what they say.  It’s from something.

What’s your name?

I’ll see you in ten years.  Right here.

We’ll always have Paris?

Yes.

The Lost Kids

ELEVEN

I walk into work on Thursday, slightly dazed from all the wine Dennis and I drank the previous night.  When I get into the locker room, I’m surprised to see Dennis there, since Thursday is usually his other day off.   “The fuck are you doing here?”

“Devon called in.  I’m filling in.”

“Sucks for you.  Should’ve let the call go to voicemail.”

“Believe it or not, I don’t have Downton’s number saved in my fucking phone, so I thought it was the delivery guy calling up with the food I ordered this morning.”  I give him a look of sympathy and laugh.

“Well, you’re lucky I’m here.  How are you feeling?  I feel a little shitty.  I kind of think that ice wine at the end sent me over a bit.”

“I’m fine.  Takes a lot more to bring me down.  But I am slightly worried that we’re gonna hear about that table cloth.”

“Fuck it, dude.  I don’t think so.  I’m pretty sure the karma of the birch bark is on our side.  Just don’t pick up your phone if Demo calls you.  As a matter of fact, just stop answering your phone unless it’s me.  It’s safest that way.”

“Oui.”  We walk into the kitchen and set about our days.  Andre is in, mouthing off about the concert he went to on his day off.  He claims his cousin hooked him up with a backstage pass to meet Drake and that he smoked a joint with him, but we never believe his stories.  I mean, really.  If Drake wanted to smoke weed with the likes of Andre, I would take back both my mild enthusiasm for his music and my childhood crush on him as Jimmy, the wheelchair kid from “Degrassi.”

Prep goes as usual, without any major hitches.  Although I’m fairly bored prepping the hot apps station, I take slight sadistic pleasure in watching Andre go down waiting for all the ingredients he needs to come in on second run.  Since Chef realizes Andre can’t continue prep for another thirty minutes, he puts him in charge of making the protein and starch for family meal, which is amusing and makes my life about one batch of polenta easier.

Andre catches me smirking as he huffily browns ground meat in the tilt skillet and glares my way.  “Too hungover to help a brother out, then?  Don’t pretend.  I see your red-ass eyes.”

“I’m not hungover, man.  I just smoked a joint with Drake out in the alley.  He and I are pretty tight these days.”  I’m feeling snarky and not in the mood for Andre’s normal bitchery.  He ignores me and continues his work; Dennis holds his laughter.  To avoid confrontation, Dennis and I eat Andre’s crappy family meal, but our cease-fire is too difficult.  “I’m really glad you’re taking chef’s hypertension into account when you make family, Andre.  I mean, salt, shmalt, am I right?  It’s the devil’s spice, if you ask me.”  Dennis snickers.

“Aw, fuck you guys.  If you want good food, maybe you should lend a hand.”  I can feel Andre’s love for me waning with his patience.  Maybe it’s a good thing.  I never considered myself “too nice,” but maybe signals got crossed.  This new enemy could be much more tolerable.

We finish up our bland food and set up for service.  It’s a slower night, so things move quietly and steadily at first.  Tension in the kitchen dissolves, and everyone is focused.  About an hour in, though, I put up a scallop, and as Chef reaches for it, Andre says, “so what’s up with the great pepper shortage of 2015?”  Chef snaps his head toward me, and my breath catches as my hands go cold and sweaty.  Fuck.  Andre had started to laugh at his seemingly harmless joke, but it’s clear it isn’t funny, and his face goes serious.

Chef turns purple but doesn’t yell.  “Gretchen,” he starts: “Get the fuck out of here.”

“But—“

“Now.”  My chest fills with anger, and everything seems surreal.  Andre has blown my cover, and I am suddenly jobless.  What a goddamn idiot.  I stay calm and put my knives in my bag, as chef pulls a sous off the pass to work my station.  But I can’t just leave.  I walk down the line to Andre, grab his ears, pull his face down to mine, and lay a long, passionate kiss on his lips.

“Is that what you wanted, motherfucker?”  I let go of his face, slap his right cheek, and walk out the back door.  Although I’m still freaking out about getting kicked out of the restaurant, I feel a heavy adrenaline rush.  And if Chef really wants to lose me over black pepper, he can suck it.

I take the train home and decide to drink away the events of the evening.  I can worry about finding a job tomorrow.  But for now, I have to take my mind off this shit.  Once I’m back in Queens, I plant my ass on a stool at the bar of the Gentry House, a well established local bar.  I know the bartender, and when he sees me, he says, “Fernet and Coke?”

“Nah, Ben.  I’ll have a Modelo and a Jameson shot.”

“Coming from work, then?  Ah, I guess not.  It’s only nine.”

“No, I am.  I just fucking lost my job.”  Ben looks sympathetic and puts up the beer with two shots.

“What happened?”

“Long story.”  I drink my shots consecutively and leave my beer a minute to feel the burn of the whisky in my throat.  Then I down half of the icy lager.  I feel my shoulders drop as my reality begins to fade.  Andre can go fuck himself.  And so can Chef.  “Ben,” I say, “Hook me up with a Fernet and Coke.”

“Yes ma’am, I’ll make it a double.”

“You’re my only friend, Ben.  I love you.”

“You have lots of friends, Gretchen.”

“Duh, I know.  But you wouldn’t tell Chef that I’m a fundamentalist anti-black pepper radical.”

“I would not.”  I drink the rest of my beer and then start my cocktail.  A few girls next to me at the bar have noticed my heavy drinking.  I size up their situation, guessing their mostly full, clear beverages are my arch nemesis cocktail:

“Vodka-soda?” I ask, making eye contact with them.  Bitches love bubbly booze water.  The one closest to me is a pretty blonde, the one next to her is a brunette Latina looking girl, and next to her is a chubby Asian girl.  Kind of a motley crew, but it seems they might all have the commonality of enjoying the swill of basic bitches.

“How’d you know?”  The brunette asks.

“Wild guess.”

“So you’re pretty thirsty, the blonde says, looking at the plethora of glasses in front of me.”

“I lost my job today.”

“Oh.  That sucks.”

“I didn’t like it there anyway.  I was gonna leave soon.  Maybe do my own thing”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a cook.”

“Are you a chef or a cook?”

“It depends on who I’m talking to.  You’re pretty.  Maybe I’m a chef, then.”  Ben laughs.  The girl can tell I’m being an asshole, but she also doesn’t fully understand the joke.  “What do you do?”  I ask.

“I work for a PR firm.”

“Nice,” I lie.  Although I respect a good PR person, I secretly hope she won’t talk about the business.  I’m still sizing up her friends, and I notice the Latina girl I originally pinned as mostly basic has a bunch of ghetto tattoos all over her forearms.  I briefly wonder if she’s dangerous.  Or basic and dangerous, which kind of equals dramatic prison material.

“I’m Olivia.  This is Natasha and this is Gina.”

“Nice to meet you all,” I muster.  I’m starting to feel a little drunk, which I think is a good thing, considering my new friends.

“So what do you want to do on your own?  You said you want to do your own thing?  I’m actually a really good cook myself.  It’s funny, but I have friends that are cooks, and I cook much more advanced stuff than they do at home.  I’m just really good in the kitchen.”  Here we go…another civilian with over-confidence in their cooking ability.  There’s probably nothing more gratifying than talking to a normal person who has no regard for the lifestyle cooks take on to hone their craft.  “What’s something you make well?”

“Well, my favorite thing to make at home is fresh pasta.  Usually with a braised lamb ragu.  I braise lamb shanks with like dark beer, thyme, juniper–”

“I would use rosemary instead.”  I pause.  Bitch, are you serious?  I’m mildly incensed that she’s asked me what I like to do only to give her civilian input on one simple dish I like to make at home.  I don’t really know what to say, but I let it go.  “So what do you want to do next?  If you could do anything, what would you do?”

“Um…”  I’m losing steam, but I figure I’ll give it one more shot, since I have no one else to talk to, and Ben’s boyfriend has come to the bar and started talking to him.  “Well, it’s not a traditional concept, but I want to throw pop-up dinners in museums around the world.  And it would just be about the art.  And the food would be awesome, but it would sort of be like in the background.

“I just don’t see how that would work.  I mean, you say you’re a chef, but you’re all about this art.  I don’t understand how that connects.  If you’re not one hundred percent focused on the food, how are you supposed to market this to anyone?  Who would want to just go look at art and kind of maybe eat some food?”  This girl is getting super annoying, and my patience is wearing thin.

“OK, you asked me what I wanted to do, and I’m telling you.  But you’re being annoying as fuck, and I’m not really into being cross-examined while I’m drinking in a bar after losing my job, if that’s OK with you.”  She looks shocked.

“I’m just trying to have a conversation with you, and you call me annoying as…”  And she’s sensitive.  This is what I get for being surrounded by guys all the time.

“I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling like this is a conversation.  You’re so confident in your shit, but you’re gonna sit here and shit on my dreams, because they don’t fit into your cookie-cutter idea of how the world works.  So let’s just drop the topic.”  Olivia looks annoyed but intrigued.

“Fine.”

“Olivia, I’m getting so bored at this bar.  Can’t we go somewhere with better music?” Natasha is starting to get antsy, and I fear her mood could quickly swing toward belligerent.  Olivia confirms:

“she’s about to go crazy.  We better go.  You should come with us!”

“Really.”  I am mildly surprised by her suggestion, considering my bluntness.

“Yeah!  I mean, you seem cool, and I feel like it could help to have a badass chef around when I need to hold back Natasha from a fight later on.”

“I’d rather not.  I think I’m just gonna go home.  But you could come with me,” I smirk.  She looks up and catches my eye, laughs, and declines my offer.

“Not tonight, but here’s my card.  Let’s get a drink sometime.  I live around here.  How old are you anyway?”

“Old enough to know better.  You?”

“Thirty-two.  But really, what about you?”  Damn.  Hmm…

“Twenty-nine,” I bluff.  But what’s in five years?  What I lack in age, I make up for in crankiness.  “Well, I gotta go.  I’ll see you around.  Ben, can I close out?”

“It’s on me.  Just this time.  Don’t need you taking back to the streets, now, do we?” he jokes.  Olivia shoots me a sideways glance.  I give her the poker face, pick up my stuff, and head out the door.  Always best to keep them guessing. As I walk into the night, my phone buzzes, and I see a text from Chef.  It says, I’m not gonna lie, that was awesome.  I will give you your job back if you come in tomorrow, eat a tablespoon of black pepper, and swear to use it when I fucking say.  I’m surprised at the offer but uncertain.  I always knew Chef hated Andre.  For now, I put it out of my mind, get in a cab, and take a five minute ride to my bed.

Autobiography of a Skinless Mind: 9: Big Booty

Composite block print: oil-based ink, canvas

Composite block print: oil-based ink, canvas

That Song that Happened at Me with the Girl and the Guitar and the Train

First thing on the train I covered my ears and
filled them with other sounds to make like I
had a choice in the environment but still I was hostage
to mouths and still the people and their jackets and wrinkles
and snot and I became the oozing organ called
subway but even still I became inward and cocooned and
missed my stop or the train did it is unclear I

got out at the next one and floated through the up
down mumbling concrete under the grey looking for the
passage to sore eyes or the day and I spotted a
crowd around a girl with a blue guitar the main things
were the blue guitar the guitar case of ones and the
afro and also the foot stomping attached to an
enthusiastic leg but I figured I would keep on through
and continue with my Smashing Pumpkins

but my hand took a phone off an ear and her sound
was loud so I took the other one off too and my feet
stopped walking and I was the crowd and she was
singing some Disclosure and her mouth was shaped
like she was happy we were happy and shaped like
she was happy by the sounds she made her mouth
was not complacent just glad and when the train came
for the others they left but

I stayed just me and a man and we watched until
she was done and even though I knew I loved
I did not talk because I hadn’t put more than seventy-five
cents in because I don’t keep cash and I felt
rude so I left the station with tears coming
down my face and did not know their purpose but

later in the day I tried to walk back and find her
but my path went the wrong way and I did not
end at the station and I started to fear what if
that was the only song she knew and it was better not
to go back and instead let her be the train girl
with the blue guitar that won’t let go of me never
who locked in my love and all so I went home
with just my numb fingers and a question like
maybe she had loved me back.

The Lost Kids

TEN

It ends up taking me over an hour to get to Demo, because the trains are all fucked up.  However, it turns out Dennis is also running late, so we meet at the door at a quarter past six.  He has already called, so they’re expecting us late, and all is well.  When he walks up, he looks shocked.  “I almost didn’t recognize you!  Damn, girl.  I think I’ve only ever seen you in your uniform or maybe jeans.”

“Well surprise, bitch.  I dressed up nice for you, because you’re my sugar daddy tonight.”

“This is true,” he laughs.  “I would order for you and all, but it’s a set menu, so that won’t be necessary.”  I cringe, as I have flashbacks to my short time working as a server at a restaurant near my school, where some of the men used to order for their dates.  Even though I knew it was well-intentioned, I also knew I would punch someone in the face if they tried to tell me what to eat.  And if they ordered me a salad, they would be lucky if it was a punch in the face instead of somewhere else.  “Let’s go in,” Dennis opens the door with a dramatic gesture, clearly reveling in our momentary swankiness.

We walk in and up to the host stand.  At first, no one is there, but then a guy walks up from the dining room.  “Oh my god, dude…talk to him when he gets here.  I have to look away.”

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

“Welcome, Mr. Smith?”  Of course they know who he is.  Good old top restaurant hospitality.  Is it hospitality?  Stalking?  I guess semantics don’t really matter.  The host brings us to our table as he makes some small talk with Dennis, whose facial expression is starting to resemble that of a dog who spots a bag of treats.  I can’t help but catch a little of his enthusiasm, skeptical as I am.  The dining room looks cool and understated without being stark or too modern.  We sit, and I manage to avoid all eye contact with the host.

“What the hell was that all about?” Dennis asks.

“Um…I think I fucked that guy at my friend Sasha’s Hannukah party.”

“Him?” Dennis looks entirely confused.

“Yes!”

“Wait but he looks gay.”

“Yeah…but like pretty sure.  I fucked him.”

“Wait what the fuck…you mean with a—“

“Oui.”

“Wait I thought—“

“The theme was ‘Eight Days of Drag,’ OK?  It felt right at the time.”

“Oui.”

Just as I’m starting to feel pretty awkward, a server comes to our table to take our drink order.  Thank fucking god.  “I’ll have a Brooklyn Gin and tonic, stirred, with olives.  Really fucking dry.  Er—sorry.  Really dry.”  Dennis orders an Old Fashioned.  “I can’t curse in this nice of a restaurant!  Jesus.  I do not belong in this kind of an establishment.”

“You’re fine, Griz.  Chill the fuck out.”

“See?  Neither can you!”  Our server comes back with our drinks, and right after we take our first sips, a runner arrives with two small plates.

“Here we have our bay scallops with bacon powder, Meyer lemon, and frozen brown butter.”  We each eat our first bite, and it’s tasty, even if the powder seems awkwardly gummy in the presence of the other components.  We nod to each other in approval, neither blown away nor distraught with our choice of restaurant, which is a strong start in my book, anyway.

“Grizzly, you have a tattoo?  I never knew that.  Who is that?”  Dennis stares at my arm, trying to discern the likeness of the portrait that occupies my inner bicep.

“First of all, it’s Miss Grizzly Smith, to you, on this special occasion,” I start.  “Secondly, it’s a portrait of Jesse Tuck, from ‘Tuck Everlasting.’” I answer.

“Favorite book?”

“No…when I was younger, and I wanted a tattoo, my mom used to always say that any tattoo I chose would get old to me over time.  So in rebellion, I chose to get a portrait of someone who would never grow old.”

Dennis laughs, “you’re fucking ridiculous, you know?”

“Language, dahling.  That’s no way to speak to a lady,”  I joke.  Soon, another runner comes back with two tiny bowls and places them before us.

“So here we have our purslane with mint emulsion and pomegranate.”  As she walks away, I peer into my bowl of slowly deflating, verdant foam.  At first I recall the day our cat clawed my inflatable Kermit when I was a kid, but my curiosity soon trumps all other thoughts.  I take my spoon and draw up some of the bowl’s contents to my mouth for the first bite.  Dennis does the same.  We both crinkle our noses a little; although the flavors aren’t terrible, the texture of plants floating in frothiness is awkwardly violating.

“Meh,” Dennis concludes.

“Meh,” I agree.  The rest of the meal continues this way, with some of the courses impressing and some distressing.  By the fifteenth and final course, I am full and confused.  Especially because we split two bottles of wine among us.  As we’re signing the bill, our server comes to the table and drops a small tray with two pieces of woody looking substance.

“We end our meals here with some Birch bark,” he says, as if that’s a normal statement.

“Pardon me?”  Dennis says, “What do we do with it?”

“You just lightly chew on it, and its medicinal qualities aid digestion.  It’s also very delicious.”  He walks away, and we look at each other in disbelief.

“Should we do it?” Dennis looks conflicted.  I nibble on the corner out of curiosity, and confirm my suspicion that it is in fact just tree bark.  Nothing special.

“Here.”  I take our barks and draw faces on them with the Sharpie in my pocket.  “They’re like Plank from ‘Ed, Ed, and Eddie!’”

“I’m pissed they want us to eat bark,” Dennis looks pained.

“Dahling, don’t fret,” I say.  I put our bark friends on the table cloth and pen a speech bubble between them.

“Holy shit, Gretchen!  I think I read the table cloths here are like a grand!”  I am unfazed.  Bark is not for lovers.  I write in the speech bubble.

“Let’s bounce.  They deserve that shit.  Tree bark is not food.”  We stand up and stroll out into the night.  “That was fun, but let’s never go to a restaurant ever again, OK?”

“OK.  But then what?”

“I don’t know.  I just don’t think I like them anymore.”

“Hm.  OK.”  We get in a cab back to Queens, and while the driver beings to swerve through traffic, I start to doze.  As sleep takes over, I enter a place where chewing on bark is not a pricey activity for fancy people, and my existence feels briefly reconciled.

The Lost Kids

NINE

Hem decides that we’re going to have a Winona Ryder marathon, so we watch “Girl Interrupted” and then start to watch “The Heathers.”  I have to agree with him that it’s a shame she’s not that relevant in pop culture anymore.  I think it turned out she was a klepto or some shit, but who really cares?  I guess it’s one thing to be a bad bitch like Lindsay Lohan and stuff, but once you get down to details, thievery is not that cool.  I will admit that it took me some time to realize that she and Kiera Knightly were not, in fact, the same person, but that’s neither here nor there.  So after the millionth Heather dies in the movie, we start to get bored and talk.

“So I’m leaving tomorrow morning around ten,” Hem informs me.

“What?  I’m off tomorrow.  I thought we could go on one of our margarita crawls.”

“Girl, are you kidding me?  After last night, you want to go out for a day of margaritas?  What shape would that leave you in for work on Thursday?”

“Boy, are you serious?  You are talking to me about not going into work hungover right now?  I’ve been on my station for months.  I’m on autopilot.  But I guess you’re probably right, anyway.  I’ve got a constant fucking sleep deficit.”

“Yeah.  You should stay in for once.”

“Hm.  Maybe.  So are you gonna hook up with your boss, then?  You said he’s into you.  Is he cute?”

“I tell myself I won’t, but I know I totally will.  I don’t know…He’s cute in a fifty year old French man kind of way.  I can dig a receding hairline, though.  Plus his accent is so hot!  I don’t know, girl.  It’s bad territory.  He has a wife!  But you know those Europeans are less repressed than Americans.  They’ll fuck anyone.”

“Maybe I should just come back with you.  Pull a Jean Valjean and start a new life.”

“Do it!  We can start an indie band and become famous.”

“Do you have any musical talent?  I only played the clarinet in the intro to band class in high school so I could look well-rounded on my college applications.  I suck at that shit.  Like, on the rare occasion that I practiced, my family’s cat would hide in the basement until it was over.  Lucky for her, that almost never occurred.”

“Either way.  I’ll sing.  We’ll figure it out.”

I get a text from Dennis that says, “hey girl—off tomorrow.  my friend canceled on me for our res at demo tomorrow night if you wanna go.”  Hm.  Demo is this fancy fucking avante garde place where the menu changes every night and all that shit.  I’ve been curious about it, but I don’t have any money, and I don’t feel like chancing the disappointment.  I’d rather just lay in bed, drink a bottle of wine, and watch reruns of “Hey Arnold” online.  I text him back: “poverty central…sorry man.  maybe another time.”  A few minutes later, I get a snapchat from Dennis.  I open it, and it’s a scratch off captioned, I won, biatch.  Ur coming to din.”

While I feel bad using Dennis’s apparent lottery money for my dining privilege, I don’t feel that bad.  I don’t know anyone else he would go with.  Cooks tend to be single and have days off that normal people won’t go out on.  And one of my old co-workers works as a sous there, so we’ll get a bunch of free shit.  “You won a scratch off??” I text him. “That’s bullshit.  I’m in.  What time?”  He texts me back, “yes!  Six.  Wear your Sunday best.”  To which I respond, “I always look my Sunday best, asshole.”  I’ll wear the Rag and Bone onesie my aunt got me for Christmas.  I don’t really have a designer onesie lifestyle, but I aspire to.

“Who’s the new boyfriend?” Hem asks, reading over my shoulder.

“You know my co-worker Dennis?  He just won a scratch off and is making me go to dinner with him tomorrow.”

“Making you?”

“Well, you know.  It’s one of those places where the meal could be amazing or total bullshit.”  Hem nods in understanding.  “Dude, it sucks that you have to go back with your boss; otherwise, I’d say you should stay over here and just take the train to the airport in the morning.  It’s not far from here.”

“I know.  Oh well.  When I win a scratch off, I’m gonna fly you to Paris to visit me.”

“Damn—my boys treat me nice!  Dinner, flights, maybe some gold hoop earrings with my name in them…”  We all know they don’t make “Gretchen” hoop earrings, but one can dream.  We laugh and run our fingers through our hair, pretending to slick it back.  It’s something we do every time one of us makes a chola joke.  I very briefly dated a Puerto Rican girl, Maria, in college, and through her, we learned a lot about the flyness of Latina culture.

“Well, Gretch…I hate to say I have to leave, especially before Winona Ryder blows up her high school, but it’s time.”

“Noooo!”  We hug, and I force him to take my ex-favorite jet-setting sweater for the plane.  It’s hard to explain why, but it’s the best sweater ever worn for travel.  But it was also Jenna’s, and I secretly just want to never see it again.  To me, a gift is even better when its gifting benefits both parties, so Hem doesn’t have to know my alternate agenda for getting rid of it.

After he leaves, I finish the rest of “The Heathers” and then doze off.  Even though it’s only eight, I sleep until I hear my alarm going off at ten the next morning.  Holy shit.  I slept all night?  It was only going to be a nap!  Oh well.  I drag myself into a seated position and frown at the drool spot on my pillow.  I once heard a woman tell her husband, “you are why we can’t have white things!”  I am why I can’t have white things.  I make a mental note to buy some not white sheets when I one day win a scratch off or the next time I work a six-day week.  What bullshit this life is, I think.  Working overtime for sheets.  

I spend my day catching up on chores, and when three o’clock roles around, I grab a Negra Modelo and head into the bathroom to shower and get ready for dinner.  Dennis will laugh when he sees me dressed up.  I don’t think we’ve ever really hung out on a day off.  I do my hair and makeup, put on my sweet new onesie, and look at the clock.  It’s only four.  I mean, Jesus.  All my friends in college took two hours to get ready for a bar crawl.  I can’t even manage to take an hour to get ready for a fancy dinner?  I decide to reward myself with another beer instead of overthinking it, and I listen to some music to relax.  I leave around five, even though the restaurant is uptown, and I’ll be early.  I’ll just wait for Dennis at the bar and get a fancy cocktail.  After all, it is on the lottery’s tab tonight.

Depictions of Astorian Life

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