So I call up Hem, and it goes to voicemail: “I am not here…or you aren’t. Is anyone here? I am not. What is a phone?…Hey, it’s Hem. If this is real life, leave me some words of encouragement.”
“Hey, dude, it’s Gretch. Just calling to say hey and catch up. I don’t know if this is real life. If this is a dream, that would be amazing, because I just dumped half a cup of cream in my coffee thinking it was milk, and I don’t want to buy another after waiting in line and spending three dollars on it at fucking La Colombe. Goddamn hipster unlabeled pitcher of dairy product bullshit. Oh…I think it’s half and half. Still, ugh. Alright. Call me back.”
I don’t like any sugar in my coffee, and I only drink cappuccinos or cortados on my days off, because money. On work days, I drink coffee with milk. Not skim, because that’s bullshit. Not almond milk, because that’s water thickened with various gums with a touch of almond added for the name…not soy milk because why…not coconut milk because why…not rice milk because I don’t put rice in my coffee…you know. It’s all OK, what you people are doing to your coffee, because that is what you do. But I drink my coffee with milk. La Colombe is good but also distinctly for the posers and masochists who like to wait in line. I am the latter.
I walk out into the streets with my nose in my phone as usual. I compulsively check it every few minutes. It’s a nasty habit I picked up from being alive in this generation, but it happens. I check my bank account and want to shit my pants. Maybe I should email that guy on Craigslist who wanted to get spanked for two hundred bucks a pop. Maybe not. Tomorrow is pay day.
I get on the subway home; I had gone into the city to wander around, but it had proved pointless. On the subway, there is a woman with a razor scooter. She must be about sixty or thirty-something with a meth habit, but it’s unclear. Who still rides a razor scooter? I put on my headphones and turn up my lady, Iggy. “And can’t nobody turn me off. And if I was a dick, I would be hard, but you would make me soft–my godddd…” Everyone has their creep move on the subway. Mine is laughing to myself about rap lyrics.
The thing I hate the most about the subway is being a hostage to mouths. Talking, chewing, clicking, licking, smacking, singing…everyone and their mouths. I’ve had a terrible time on subways watching all the mouths while I’m listening to my music…I’ve felt surrounded by aliens with this gaping orifice for excess and monotony. It’s quite ruinous after a while, really. The way to go about it is to get above ground for air as quickly as possible after the ride. I don’t know what the fuck it’s about, either, but it’s what happens. Occasionally, I think to myself that one only has to ride the subway to boost one’s self esteem. In life, there is beauty and ugly, but down in the train, it’s a different class of it. Looking at my subway compatriots is the time I most consider taking care of my health. I mean, Jesus.
Once I’m back in Queens and above ground with my air, I get a few texts from friends also off work. Seamus wants to grab a drink, and I can’t think of any reason why not. Seamus and I met at a local AA chapter. I remember it well, although it was over a year ago. Seamus was this quiet black dude who never spoke at these fucking meetings. At the fifth meeting, I finally decided to talk. It’s every bit as cliché as it appears in the movies. “I’m Gretchen, and I’m an alcoholic and an addict.”
“It’s been five weeks since my last drink. I never thought my drinking was that out of control, but I drank a lot every day. I was visiting Austin, TX to see family, and I went to explore the city one day while they were all going to see a movie. I forget what it was. Some bullshit. Ah–“Twenty-two Jump Street.” So I thought, fuck that movie–I’m just gonna go check out the town. I had never been to Texas before.
So it’s evening, and I pass a strip club. “Bare Austin,” I think it was called. I’d been to a bar earlier, and I had a few beers and whiskies, but I was fine. I go in, and there’s some girl dancing on the pole, but it’s not too packed in there. I grab a Modelo and sit at the pole. I reach into my bag for money, and by some fucking awkward circumstance, I only have dollar coins. I have no idea how I got them. But I’m aware that pelting the stripper with Sacagawea-printed metal is not the way to go.
So I’m making neat little stacks of my coins on the side of the stage while she shakes her tits around and tells me about the cool spots to visit in town. It was an oddly tour-guide-like pole dance. But whatever. So time gets away from me, and I’ve been there drinking for like two hours, and suddenly I’m being shaken awake by the bartender. And she’s all like, “excuse me, ma’am but you can’t be sleepin’ in the bar…” And I’m all fucking embarrassed and dazed, so I pay and run out of there. So I get in my cousin’s car that I borrowed and head home, but right when I’m turning onto her street, I hear a siren and realize I’m being pulled over.
Long story short, ten minutes later I’m walking the line, and ten minutes after that, I’m in fucking hand cuffs in the back of the cop’s car because I blew a point-one-eight. And I had to do all this bullshit like have a mug shot taken and get finger printed and the like. And I swear to god, the guy taking my prints had the least efficient method for finger printing. It took him three times longer than necessary, at least. I should be a cop, for fuck’s sake….”
“Ah, fuck off. I’m done anyway. We all know how the story ends anyway, right? I’m here.” I sat down and listened to a few other sob stories. Why did I even go? I should’ve just sat and listened, but I guess I get bored.
And after that meeting, Seamus came up to me after and started laughing like he was gonna piss his pants or something. I’d never even seen the guy smile, either. And I thought he was older, but up close I guessed he must’ve been somewhere under thirty. “Your parents make you come here?” he asked.
“Want to grab a beer?”
“Yeah. Let’s get out of here.” We emerged from the dimly lit church into the blindingly bright winter day. All the snow had melted and refrozen as ice in the streets, and the wind whipped our cheeks as we wandered around the block to an old pub. It’s weird on the Upper East Side, how there are a smattering of old, shitty pubs amongst the ritziness.
We got to talking and drinking. I don’t really give a shit about Guiness, but it’s the first thing I could think to order at a place like that, and having gone five–er, three–weeks without a drink, I didn’t much care. I’m not a goddamn alcoholic…I just made a mistake. “You’re not an alcoholic until you quit,” I’ve heard some Irish people say. I agree.
Seamus grew up in Harlem. He had gone to Columbia on a full ride, but his drinking got in the way, and he got kicked out. C’est la vie. He since became a sculptor and dabbled in other media as well. He’d been in this AA thing for a few months, but he was tired of it, like me. I mean, maybe this guy had some real issues, but it wasn’t my life to judge. And he’d been back on the bottle for a couple weeks already, so it wasn’t my fault he was drinking again. After that, I would go workshop at Seamus’s apartment with him. Sometimes he would teach me to sculpt, sometimes I would write while he did his shit, sometimes we would take shots and race to see who could knit a longer scarf during one hour’s time. I always won at that one. Mine always had runs in it from dropped stitches, but that’s not against the rules.
It turns out Seamus is in Queens visiting an art dealer, so I meet him for a beer. After a couple rounds and going through the usual updates, he asks me about work. “Fuck…”
“Oh, here we go…”
“So I’m having this crisis where I don’t think I like food anymore.”
“It just doesn’t make any sense. Why care about it? It’s nourishment, right? And we want it to taste good, sure. But I’m losing faith in the ritual/fetishization of the meal. It’s a meal. People go out, order food, spend all this money, and it’s like fucking done in an hour. Often, the food is a let down. There’s so much wrong with it.”
“But people love going out to eat…I understand, but I still don’t see what your problem is. You love cooking, right?”
“Well I had this dream recently, right? So in my dream, I’m making this elaborate meal, and suddenly I feel this sense of ecstasy and calm. And I think to myself, I love cooking. And when I woke up, I felt so weird about it. I haven’t felt that way about making food in so long. And I have so many problems with cooking. Garnishes, for example. Why does every dish need a bright green garnish? Why? There is only one possible answer. One way to make sense of it.”
“That makeup is to women what garnishes are to food: code for “please eat me.”
“You know I’m right! Or like a male peacock. I am bright. Let us mate. Bright garnishes are like a dish’s way of saying, “please mate your mouth with me right now. And I guess that’s fine, but I still think it’s ridiculous. Like, at least the birds’ feathers still function. How often have you felt that some little piece of chive made your meal worthwhile? Fuck that.”
“You’re overthinking it…”
“I don’t know, man. And like, food is the most ephemeral high you could have. You put it in your mouth, it’s good. Done. Soon you’re bored eating the food. Soon you’re full. It’s in the past before you know it. No lasting effects. It’s not like drinking, where at least you know you may be up to no good later. Or perhaps that over drinks you are slowly becoming more attractive to your companion. Right? Agree with me. We’re three beers in. I’m gorgeous, no?
“Of course you are.”
“Food is an enigma, man. Sometimes I think I’m only in it because it was my first muse. I’m gonna join the dark side. Foray into non-funtional art. It’s easier without the blurred lines. Food is either food or art or an abomination of the in-between. Or the best combination of both. But it’s dangerous to not know.”