The Process

Tag: canada

The Lost Kids

FIFTEEN

When we leave the restaurant, I realize I am severely underdressed for the weather.  It’s dropped to about zero degrees, and it’s snowing, and all I brought was my peacoat.  Of course I knew that was a fucking stupid move when I was leaving, but cold is always a very distant theory until it’s gnawing at your face and ass.  “Jed, I think I should go back and get some more clothes to put on…” I start.

“No, no, you don’t need more clothes,” Jean interjects.  “Wear the Pastis jacket!”  He hands me the half-finished bottle–er–half finished second bottle of Pastis.  “It will protect you from the cold.  Look at me–I’m not even wearing a coat as heavy as yours.”  Yeah, and you just worked in the hot kitchen all night and weigh about two hundred pounds more than I do.  Although I find fault with Jean’s argument, I take the Pastis and drink, feeling my belly and face warm up a bit as I do.  It’s better than nothing, to be sure.

“Jed, want some Pastis jacket?”

“Nah, I’m good,” he grins, holding up his two already full hands, one with a joint and one with a beer.

“I see that,” I smirk.  At least I haven’t seen him do anything hard since we’ve gotten here.  Not that I’ve had my eye on him the whole time, or anything.  Who knows whether he was taking pills while I was asleep in the car.  Although I like to think he might care enough about me already not to put my life on the line for a temporary high, I also know that rationale is not solid…at all.  “Jean, where are we going?”

“Ask Bette and Louis.  I never choose.  But we usually go to the same places.  Bette and Louis know where the fun is; I just follow along and enjoy.” Louis turns around, looks at me playfully, and says,

“Why do you need to know?”

“Curious.”

“Have you read Alice in Wonderland?”

“Yes.”

“So remember the part when Alice asks the Cheshire cat which way she should go at the fork in the road?”

“Yes.”

“And he asks her where she’s trying to go.”

“Right, and she says she doesn’t know…”

“And so he says that, in that case, it doesn’t matter which path she takes.”

“OK, Mr. Party Philosophy 101…I get it.  Take me down your rabbit hole…I’m in…Why did that sound so dirty?  I don’t really know what I’m saying…let’s just go…”  The cooks trailing behind us laugh at me in a sort of well-orchestrated movie effects kind of way, and I giggle, taking another swig of Pastis.  This Pastis jacket concept isn’t too bad, actually.  We stop and turn into a smallish alley, and Bette turns around to me and asks,

” ‘ave you ever been to a strip club?”  I smirk, thinking about how the last time I’d been was before getting arrested for drunk driving.  Great.  At least Jed is in charge of driving the Rush-mobile.  She opens the strangely warped wooden door and nods toward the inside, signaling for us to go in.

The warmth of the bar causes my cold face to go immediately ruddy, and I imagine I must look like something in between a young woman and an old Irish man, but not in the post-plastic surgery Joan Rivers kind of way.  I laugh at this.

“What’s so funny?”  Jed asks, his face starting to look relaxed and dazed from all the drinking and smoking.

“Everything, don’t you think?”

“Yes, my lady.”  We sit down at a large table just off the bar, and Jean shows up with two brimming pitchers of beer and a tray of whiskeys for everyone.  Jesus H. Christ.

“Well, everyone,” Jean begins, in all his sweaty, drunken glory, “We are lucky to meet two young travelers tonight.  While they may be Americans, we will forgive them this for the simple reason that it is a gift to enjoy the company of young lovers experiencing life’s great gifts of food, drink, and good company.  They uphold the values we prize in our lives, and it’s comforting to see that a next generation of people are safeguarding the institution of bounty and excess.  To l’amour!”

L’amour!” Everyone shouts.  And just then, I see her on the stage.  A familiar face on a naked body…the receptionist from our hotel!

“Oh my God, Jed–it’s her!  The hotel receptionist!”  Jed looks toward the stage and chuckles.

“Shit…”  She dances toward the edge of the stage, catches my eye, and winks.

“So, I see you’ve met Clara, probably at your hotel?” Louis catches on quickly.  “She tends to direct people she finds interesting to Jean’s restaurant because she knows he herds people in here like flocks of sheep.  She’s been a friend for years.  When she’s done with her shift, she’ll come hang out.”

“Damn, good thing we listened to her dinner advice,” Jed says.

“Shut up!”  I punch him in the knee cap, feigning jealousy.  Am I feigning anymore?  I’m not so sure.

“So you’re a cook?” Jean sidles over to me from the other end of the table and sits in a free chair.

“Yeah…but I don’t have a place to work right now.  It’s hard, you know?  Trying to understand if all the work is worth it at a fancy place or whatever.”

“Well…if you love the food, you don’t have to think so hard.  Like anything else.  I love my kids.  I hate when they fucking wet the bed and I have to change their sheets at four in the morning when all I want to do is sleep.  But it’s worth it.  You love the food?  You understand why you’re taking the trash out at three in the morning or scraping grease off the fucking oven.  There’s just no choice in the matter.”

“Oui,” I giggle.  It is a little wise, but I’m drunk, so it’s also funny.

“You speak French?”

“Enough.”

“What is enough?”

“Enough to shut the fuck up and say oui.”

“Ah, oui,” he laughs.

“Am I interrupting?”  I feel a hand snake around my shoulder and turn toward the voice.  Oh, shit…it’s this Clara bitch…

“No…no, not at all,” I stammer.  She’s way prettier than I realized back at the hotel.  And the inkling of badass I got before has gone full blown in the context of the strip club.  She’s put on a pair of tight black jeans and a rust colored silk blouse and still managed to come off sexier than when she was almost completely naked ten minutes ago…amazing…

“So, surprise…” she smirks.

“Yeah…you played us right into your trap, huh?  Do you bring all the cute American tourists into this little set-up, then?”

“No…”

“Then…”

“Platelet people.”

“What does that mean?”

“I have a theory that people who have seen a darker side of life stick to each other…like platelets…It’s an unconscious effort to heal the wound…”

“What makes you think we’re wounded?”

“What makes you think you’re not?”  I follow her gaze to Jed, who looks happy but hopeless, as usual.  I laugh.

“OK, but me?”

“You’re content in life?”

“Well…no…but contentedness seems lazy…I’m just hungry for more…”

“We’re not all the same, but you don’t see any…how do you Americans call it…basic bitches around here…do you?”  She laughs.

“No!  No basic bitches!  That is true,” I laugh.  Fair enough.  Platelet people it is.

“And besides…I get a sense of loss from you, somehow.  You’re having fun, but you have a guard up.  You’re not letting yourself be with him…easily.”

“Maybe that’s not exactly what I’m into,” I smirk, pointedly.

“Ah, oui, but either way, I think maybe you are.”

Bette comes over and saves me from the strange direction this conversation is going in, and I’m relieved. “Can I get you two another drink?” she asks.

“You know, yes, but I don’t know what I want.”

“Well, young lady, it’s a bit too late to tell you to stick to one thing, so your guess is as good as mine.”

“This is true.  How about a beer and a whiskey again.  I can try to stick to that.”

“Oui, Clara?”

“The same.  You know, I’m a bit tired after my shift.  Would anyone like to…get less tired?”  She grins and taps her nose with a well-manicured finger.  Well, it’s not as though the night seemed like it would end anytime soon, anyway.  

Ouaaaiiiiiiii” all the cooks and Jean chime in, clearly excited that cocaine has made an appearance in the conversation.

“Wayyyyy!”  Jed adds.

“Fuck it,” I agree, as she passes around a small bag and spoon.  The bag goes around the circle until it’s out.

“No worries; I have more for in a bit,” she says.  The bitterness invades the back of my throat as I perk up a little.  “How is that?”  Clara asks, looking me over.

“Great, thanks.”

“Want some more?”

“Maybe.”

“Ah, oui, but I can’t find the spoon anymore…” she smiles, tucking it into her pocket.  “But I know a good surface.”  She jumps up backwards and has a seat on the bar, spins sideways, and lays down.  Before I can process the situation, she’s topless with a roughly poured line between her tits.  Well this is occurring…I’m highly amused by the situation and completely ecstatic that I agreed to go to Canada with Jed.  This is hilarious, ridiculous, and all the debauchery I ever wanted and more.  Well, maybe.

“How can I be so sure this is coke?”  I joke, and I stick my finger in her mouth, wet it, use it to pick up some of the powder off her chest, and rub it on my gums.  She looks surprised and amused.  “Yep, it seems to be…”  I bend down and stick my face between her breasts, snorting up about half of the coke and missing the rest.  We’re both laughing uncontrollably by now, and Jean appears out of nowhere and licks up all the rest off her body.  “Jesus, man!”

“Jean would replace powdered sugar on his donuts with blow if he could; don’t be concerned,” Clara laughs.

“Evidently!”  Clara sits up and leans close.

“I liked your finger in my mouth,” she whispers in my ear.  “But–”

“Oh, hello, I see you’ve met my lady,” Jed appears, wide-eyed.

“Monsieur Jed, hello…”

“Thanks for your recommendation earlier.  The restaurant was incredible.  And this…this is not bad, either, he says, glancing at her still naked chest.

“I thought you might like it,” she says, as she puts her shirt back on.  “Come, let’s dance.”

The Lost Kids

FOURTEEN

When I wake up, I look out to a line of cars ahead of us.  Holy shit, Jed–are we at the border already?  What time is it?”  He looks over at me and laughs.

“It’s six.”

“Jesus.  Should we be worried about border control?  Are you sure there aren’t any drugs hiding in this van right now?  Are we gonna get arrested?”

“Calm down, Gretchen.  I don’t think there’s anything in here.”

“You don’t think…”

“I checked.  Just calm down.  Here.  Want some?”  Jed holds out a half-eaten McDouble.

“Ew…you’re disgusting…”  I take the burger, realizing I’m starving, and take a bite.  For a cold, grey meat sandwich, it’s perfect.  I wolf down the three remaining bites.

“So disgusting…” Jed smirks.

“Shut up.”  I turn up the radio, which Jed has switched to some hip hop station and sing along:  “Ass fat!  Yeah I know!  The mo’ you spendin’, the fasta it go!” I do my best Nikki Minaj impression, and Jed looks surprised.  “C’mon Jed.  I know you know the words, too.  Throw some mo’!  Throw some mo’!”  He grins.

“You’re fucking crazy.  Turn it off for now; we’re coming up to the booth.”  I turn off the radio, as we drive up to the woman checking passports.  She asks Jed a bunch of questions about our trip and what kind of shit we have in the car.

“OK, can you pull up there and go inside so that we can check your car?”  Fuck.  I knew this was going to end in a drug bust or something.

“Sure.”

“Jed, what the hell?  No other cars ahead of us got checked.”

“I don’t know.  It’s probably just routine.  Don’t worry about it.”  We get out of the car and go into the building.  To take my mind off the situation at hand, I read some brochures about Canadian tourism and maple syrup, but my hands are sweaty, and I have to pee.  After a few minutes, the man who went out to inspect the car comes in and says something to another guard at the desk.  I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I see the second guard put on a pair of gloves and go out to the car.  We’re totally fucked.  I shouldn’t have come to Canada with this stranger.  I don’t want to go to jail.

A couple minutes later, I see another guard summoned out to the car.

“Jed…this is not looking good.”  I can tell he’s trying to stay calm for my sake.  How patronizing.  A few minutes later, the first guard comes back in and walks over to us with a serious expression.

“You can go back out to your car.”  I feel relieved but also confused.  We walk out the door, and one of the guards looks up.

“Where did you get this car?”

“It’s my friend’s…”

“This is the same van Rush used when they first started touring.  Not just the same model, but the same van!  Geddy Lee rode in this car!” he exclaims in a heavy French accent.

“My friend’s uncle helped organize Rush’s first tour in America.  Their van was on its final days, so they left it with him in America, and later on, he gave it to my friend to fix up if he wanted.  It’s a miracle it runs, but it does.”

“Bobo fucking owns Rush’s old tour van?  We’re driving Rush’s old tour van?  Jed!”  I’m at once ecstatic and offended Jed hadn’t told me before.  He smiles, and the guard gives him the keys.

“Have fun in Montreal,” the guard says.

I’m still trying to calm down, and as I get back into the van, I feel jittery.  “Alright, Jed.  Well, that was fucked up.  And I can’t believe you didn’t tell me.  Fuck you!  Anyway, I guess it’s appropriate to put this on, then.”  As he turns his key in the ignition and starts to drive, I put some Rush on my phone and turn it all the way up.  “MONDAY WARRIOR MEAN, MEAN STRIDE, TODAY’S TOM SAWYER, MEAN, MEAN PRIDE!”  I yell.  Jed smiles and joins in.  “THOUGH HIS MIND IS NOT FOR RENT, DON’T PUT HIM DOWN AS ARROGANT!”  We do a wonderful, terrible job singing the song, and I laugh to myself, briefly thinking that Jed is a little bit of a Tom Sawyer guy.

“So I’m really hungry.  Should we just go put our shit in the hotel and go get some food right away?”

“Yes,” I agree.  I’m fucking hungry, and I would love a drink.  Actually, I would love a bathroom, and then a drink, and then some food.  Dennis went to Canada last year, and he said the food was amazing.  “Should we go try some of this poutine shit, or should we go somewhere fancy?  After all, this is a very sophisticated getaway week for us, is it not?”

“I say fancy.  I mean, haven’t you had your fill of poutine in New York?  It’s at every hip eatery.”

“But I would hope it’s better here.”

“Maybe so.  Oh, here it is,” Jed points to a pretty brick building and pulls up to the valet.  The hotel looks really nice, and I feel a little bad that he’s spending his money on our room.  However, it’s not every day people my age get to do such things, so I brush off the guilt.  We check in and go up to our room.

“A king?”  I look at him with a playfully annoyed smirk.  Like hell I’m sharing a bed with a random man I just met.  But I don’t mind.  I’ll sleep on the luxurious looking leather couch.

“It’s all they had available.”

“Naturally.”  We drop our bags and go downstairs to ask the receptionists about restaurant recommendations.  Typically, I have a whole list of places to go when I travel, but something about the spontaneity of this trip made me want to wing everything.  The hostess is a young woman probably not much older than me, and although she is well dressed and groomed, something about her vibe seems a little punky and badass.  When we ask her where we should eat, she pauses, sizing us up, probably wondering what two younger, somewhat grungy Americans are doing at a nice hotel in Montreal in the middle of the winter.  Barely missing a beat, she recommends a place called Gros.

“What’s it like?”  I ask.

“It’s hard to really say,” she starts.  “But just go.  I think you two will like it.”

“What kind of attire is it?”

“Go as you are,” she smiles in a strangely mysterious, all knowing way.

“Well OK, let’s do it, then,” Jed seems pleased with the bare amount of information we’ve received.

“Fuck it, yeah.  Let’s go.  I’m starving.”  We walk toward the door, and as Jed opens it, I ask, “Is it wrong to trust someone’s restaurant recommendation just because she’s hot?”  He laughs, realizing we’ve both trusted this receptionist in blind faith, and says,

“No.  I think it’s perfectly fine.”

Gros is only five blocks from our hotel.  It’s pretty busy when we get there, but it is also small.

“Table for two?”

“Yes, thanks.”

“OK, just give me one moment…here.  Have these while I get your table ready.”  The host hands us shots of brown liquor.

“That’s how I always want to be greeted.  Everywhere I go,” I say, as I sniff the beverage, verifying that it’s whiskey.  “Cheers, Jed.”

“Cheers, m’lady!”  We down the fiery shots, and my belly warms up immediately.  My stomach growls, wondering why I’m only sending it alcohol when it really wants food.  Shhh…I tell it.  Food to come.  The host sits us at a table in the back corner, which is dim and beautiful.

“Well, how romantic!” I joke.  Jed laughs, but there’s a hint of something else in the laugh that worries me.  I hope he doesn’t feel this is a romantic dinner.  Or is it?  Canada feels like an alternate universe to me.  Maybe I will create a new world today.  This place…this food…this person…for now, I love them all?  I could love everything here.  And that might be perfect.  And yet, maybe this is the whiskey talking.

“What can I get you two to drink?” A woman appears next to our table.  We order a large bottle of La Fin Du Monde, a beer made in Montreal, to split.  A few minutes later, the waitress comes back with two glasses and the bottle and pours it for us.  She sets down a basket of biscuits between us and gives us some time to look at the menu.

“Cheers!”  I clink glasses with Jed, and some of the tall, white foam runs over the side of my glass.  The beer is refreshing and strong, and the biscuits are warm.  “Do we even need anything else?”

“Haha…yes…but this is pretty great by itself,” he agrees.  “What about this braised goose tacos situation?”

“Mmm…that sounds great.  What about this lobster po’ boy with crispy pig ears and Ranch?”

“Should we have smoked before coming here?”

“Maybe.  But we’re pretty hungry already.”

“Excuse me,” a woman at the table next to us looks over at us. “I don’t mean to intrude, but would you like to go smoke?  My husband and I are taking a break in our meal, and we’re going to step outside.  People actually do it here quite frequently.  The restaurant doesn’t really mind; there’s an alley right next door.”

“Seriously?”  Jed looks happy, and the woman nods.  “Gretchen?”

“Sure.  Let’s go.”  We put our napkins on the table and walk outside.  It’s started to snow, and most of the streets are empty.  I realize it’s already ten, and that makes me happy.  Late dinners are one of my favorite things.  The woman pulls a joint out of a small tin in her purse and lights it with a match from a Gros matchbook.

“So where are you two from?”

“New York,” I say.  “Are you from here?”

“No, actually we’re from Toronto, but my husband is a graphic designer, and I’m a musician, so we moved here, because it’s more conducive to our work.  Perhaps not because of the work itself, but, em…the nature of the environment,” she laughs, taking a pointed drag.  “And what do you do?”

“I’m a salesman, and she’s a cook,” Jed replies.

“And how long have you been together?”

“Oh, we’re–”

“Two years,” Jed cuts me off.  I smirk. I can play this game.  We talk with the couple, Bette and Louis, some more, and when we finish the joint, we return to dinner.  Back in the restaurant, we push our tables together and order a ton of food.  Even though Bette and Louis were once half way through their meal, they’re again ravenous.

It turns out they’re both devout wine lovers, so they order wines with our food that make everything perfect.  Muscadet with our seafood, Carignan with our goose tacos, a Cote du Rhone with a fried rabbit dish.  Although at first I was nervous about prices, it eventually becomes clear that the chef is good friends with Bette and Louis, and by extension, everything is on the house.

“We’ve known Jean for ten years,” Louis says.  “He was my best man in our wedding.  He’s like a brother to me.  I design all his menus and book covers, and I eat here free.  It’s the essence of a symbiotic relationship.”

“To symbiosis!”  I toast, as I begin to feel quite drunk.

“Symbiosis!”  Everyone cheers, in unison.  After the other tables have cleared out of the restaurant, Jean and a few other chefs come out of the kitchen with some more food and a few bottles of Pastis.  We all drink, talk, and smoke in only candlelight, now, and I feel a sense of peace that I’ve never before experienced.  Jed looks happy, too, which makes me happy.  He looks up and catches my eye, and I smirk, thinking, yes, two years, we’ve been together now.  He looks healthy in the candle light, and something like love bubbles up in me for a moment.  I’m surprised, but I suspend the concern to prolong the good feeling.

“Well, then,” Jean announces, stirring me from my dream-like state, “I think it’s time to go have some fun.  To the bars!”

“To the bars!”  Bette echoes.  Jed and I exchange looks of surprise, considering we clearly underestimated just how hard these French Canadians could party, and we shrug, chiming in,

“To the bars!”

The Lost Kids

THIRTEEN

I wake up to the blinding brightness of day coming through the living room window and fumble for my phone to check the time.  I feel more out of it than usual; maybe I’m still a little high, but it’s unclear.  I stay still for a few minutes and float, which is something I like to do when I wake up hungover.  When I feel like my head is drifting through the universe, if I stay still, I feel my body going with it, and I’m weightless.  It can be a little nauseating, though, so after a few minutes, I sit up and become one with my tired body.  My feet hurt, as usual.  My spine aches at the top, where my shoulders connect, and I wonder, briefly, if I could ever maybe swap it out with a new body.  That would be ideal.

To re-orient myself with life’s tangibility and the oppressive gravity, I drag myself into my leather chair.  It is always comforting to have a thing surround your body with so much familiarity.  As I sit, dazed, staring at our faded blue carpet, I muddle through the events of last night in my mind.  The memory of arguing with Olivia makes me giggle.  What a strange girl.  Or am I strange?  Either way, I’m glad I didn’t end up finding out what the night had in store for her and her bruiser friend.  If Hem had met her, we would have run our fingers through our hair in true chola style.

Well fuck…I start to wonder about Jed.  Does he really think we’re going to Canada?  Is it even safe to travel with a drug-addled dude I barely know?  Should I actually just go back to work?  The idea of passing chef’s black pepper challenge makes me nauseous.  Fuck that…Maybe I should go to Canada pending Jed’s current state.  My stomach starts yelling at me, and I realize I haven’t eaten in a while.  I don’t think I have any food, but I shuffle to the fridge and open it anyway.  As I stare at its contents, I blank out and fall into a daze.  The sadness of Jed’s story creeps back up in my chest, and I lose focus, seeing only the dish of pills he had pulled out last night and hearing his tired voice say, “they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…they were gone-gone…”

“Gretchen!”  I’m startled by Vanessa’s energetic voice, and I come out of my trance fast, overtaken by the sudden urge to poop.

“Uh…hey, V…What’s up…”

“Ermagerd…you look exhausted!  What is wrong?  Have you slept this week?  Have you been hanging out with Hannah again?”

“Uh…no…I just didn’t sleep well, and I’m kind of hungry.”

“Gretch, like, why were you sleeping on the couch, though?”

“I dropped off my laundry yesterday and haven’t gotten my sheets back yet,” I bluff.

“Don’t you have another set to change them out?”

“No…”

“Do you want a smoothie?  I’m about to try this new recipe I found online.  Oprah recommends it as a great energy booster for when you’re trying to lose weight.  I mean, not that you need to lose weight or anything…I do…I still need to drop that pound and a half I gained over the holidays…I’m so jealous you can stay as small as you are and be a chef and all that.  It’s totally not fair.  Do you have thyroid problems?  Because if I had thyroid problems, I would definitely not do anything about it if it was working in my favor.  I know it’s not healthy, but let’s be serious.  Some comedian once said that if AIDS was curable, women would get it on purpose to lose weight, and I’m not gonna lie…I totally agree with that.  Well…maybe.  So do you want a smoothie?”

I am not prepared for this burst of energy, but I oblige out of fatigue and ambivalence: “Yeah…sure…does it have kale, though?  I don’t want a leaves smoothie.”

“No, but it has spirulina powder.  It’s algae.  Is that OK?”

“Sure.”  As Vanessa starts pontificating on the benefits of consuming algae, I wander to the bathroom.  My guts feel disoriented and weird.  As I sit, mentally discombobulated, on the toilet, I wonder if I should have declined the smoothie.  A bagel sounds much better than algae at the moment.  I take a picture of my dropped pants and send Hem a Snapchat captioned “pooping.”  Oh…fuck…I sent it to my mom by mistake…Well, these things happen.   She may not even know how to open a Snapchat.

“Smoothies are ready!  It’s so good!”  I hear Vanessa yell.

“Coming…”  I walk out, and Vanessa is holding out a tall glass of blue-brown puree.  It looks gross, but I really don’t have the mental capacity to decline.  I take a sip, and it’s odd, but the cold feels good.  “Is there carob in here?”

“Yes.”

“Is there cayenne in here?”

“Ermagerd…only a little!  You’re good!”  I cough at the spiciness and try to ignore the fact that the smoothie tastes a little like cold barbecue.

“Thanks, V.”  Just as I prepare myself for the second sip, there’s a knock on the door.  “You have friends coming over?”

“No.  Do you?”  My phone buzzes as I head to the door.  It’s a text from my mom that says, “why are you so disgusting!?”  Oops.  There’s another knock, so I put my phone in my pocket and open the door.

“Buenos dias, Gretchen!”  It’s Jed.  Vanessa looks confused.

“Vanessa, this is Jed.  Jed, this is my roommate, Vanessa.”  A door opens behind me, and Eddie emerges from his room.  He looks up at all of us, surprised to be greeted by a group, and nods while ducking into the bathroom in an effort to expediently hide his morning boner.  “That’s Eddie.”

“Gretchen and I are going to Canada today,” Jed announces, looking excited and more energetic than he was last night.  It actually looks like he showered, but his hair still looks a little gross.  Maybe he just changed clothes.

“You didn’t tell me you were going away!” Vanessa exclaims, looking hurt to be left out but also excited.

“Um…yeah, well, it was a little last minute.”

“How do you two know each other?”

“Jed actually lives next door.”

“Wait, you’re the guy who gets all the tiny packages in the mail all the time?”

“Yes.  I collect Pokemon merch.”  Vanessa is starting to look judge-y, so I take her into my room to talk.

“Vanessa is gonna help me pack real quick, Jed.  Sit down for a minute, I’ll be right back.  Here!  Have this smoothie.”  I’m glad to be able to pawn off the beverage now that I’ve decided it’s not palatable in my current state.

“Gretchen, when did you meet this Jed guy?”

“Last night.”

“You can’t go to Canada with him!”

“Yes I can.”

“What about work?”

“I left Downton yesterday.”

“What?”

“I’ll find a new job when I get back.  I have enough money for next month’s rent.  Don’t worry.”

“I don’t care about that…I mean, I do…but isn’t it kind of stupid to be going on a trip with this stranger?  He looks kind of grimy…”

“He doesn’t have anyone, V.  I feel like this would be good for him.  I’m not stupid…I’ll be careful.  But I think he’s really harmless.  And he’s sweet.  I get him.”

“OK.”  I grab up a couple outfits and stuff them in my backpack.  I don’t really know how long we’ll be away, but I’m sure I’ll be able to make it work.

“Jed, how are we getting there?”

“I’m using Bobo’s car.”

“Who the fuck is Bobo?”

“My boy from the grocery.”

“The drug dealer?  Are we gonna get followed by the cops?”

“No.  Chill out.  It’s fine.  I booked a hotel in Montreal through Wednesday.”

“OK.”  I realize that Jed has artfully dumped the smoothie and washed out the glass.  Lucky me.  I guess I’m not going back to Downton, so I text Chef, “I’m not coming back.  Sorry.”  And put my phone in my pocket.  “Bye, V.  I’ll see you on Thursday, then.

“OK…Have fun and be safe.  Text me when you get to the border.  And then when you get to your hotel.  Will you call me later?”

“Sure.”  I walk out the door, and Jed closes it behind me.  “I can’t believe we’re actually doing this!”

“Trust the adventure, right?”

“I fucking guess so.  Have you ever been to Canada?”

“No.”

“Me neither.  Can we go get a bagel before we leave?”

“Sure.  Let’s go to Bean Bros.”  We walk in, and José is at the counter.

“Hey, José.  How are you?”  He looks right past me to Jed.

“Jed, brother, what’s up?  Ishan!  Jed stopped by!”  What the fuck…Ishan emerges from the back.

“Jed!  What’s good?”  Lots of fist pounding takes place, and suddenly I feel like the outsider in my own bagel shop.  Without even taking our order, the boys put together a medium coffee with milk, a cappuccino, an untoasted poppy bagel, and a toasted everything bagel with bacon-scallion cream cheese.  No charge.  Jed and I thank them, and then we head toward the door.

“Sit down or hit the road?”  Jed asks.

“Let’s hit the road.  Doesn’t it take forever to get there?”

“I guess we’ll see.”

“So, how do you know them so well?”

“Ishan is a customer, you know.  And sometimes I give José a bunch of money to do hand-offs to my customers at the bagel shop.”:

“The bagel shop traffics drugs?”

“Well…sometimes.”

“Jeez.”

“We all benefit.  And you know, there are no real cops in Queens.”

“Just garden gnomes that ticket cars!”

“Exactly.”  He hits the unlock button on his keys when we near a dark blue van.

“We’re taking a kidnapping van to Canada?”

“It’s a good car.”

“We’re gonna look like Bonnie and Clyde meets the ice cream man.”

“I like the sound of that, though.  Don’t you?”

“Sounds like a good premise for a band, anyway.  Alright.  Let’s do this.”  I dump my belongings in the back and climb into the passenger seat.  It’s a tall car for me to get into, but riding high up always makes me feel powerful.  After I settle into my seat, I text back my mom, “whoops, wrong Snapchat.”  C’est la vie.  “Oh, by the way, Jed, I can’t drive, so I hope you got all the coffee you need.”

“Even if you could, Bobo made me swear not to let anyone drive his car, so it’s all good.  Why can’t you drive?”

“DUI.”

“Ah.  You shouldn’t leave Queens!  There are cops out there.”

“Speaking of leaving Queens.”

“Yes ma’am.”  Jed puts the key in the ignition, starts the van, and pulls out of the spot as he takes an overzealous bite of his bagel.  Cream cheese oozes out and falls onto the seatbelt.  “Ah, fuck,” he licks it off.

“Ew!”

“What?  It’s delicious cream cheese!  I’m not letting it go to waste.  I’m trying to forget what that smoothie tasted like!”

“True.  I’m sorry I tried to give it to you.”

“You’re forgiven.  Put on some music.  Your choice.”  I turn on the radio, and Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen” comes on.  “Did you know Axl Rose brought a girl into the studio and fucked her for the sex noises in the background of that bridge?”

“What if I told you that was me?”

“Right.  And how old are you again?  Eighteen?”

“Twenty-four.  OK, it wasn’t me.  But it’s still cool.”  I rip off a piece of my bagel, spilling poppy seeds all over the floor of the car.  I would feel bad, but there’s still cream cheese on his seatbelt, so fuck it.  I rest my head against the window and listen to the music as we drive off, as Axl Rose sings, Here I am, and you’re a rocket queen…I might be a little young, but honey, I ain’t naive…

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.