The Process

Tag: hemingway

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.

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.

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.

The Lost Kids

THREE

After drinks, Seamus and I decide to grab a growler of something and continue the shenanigans at my place.  It’s not our fault that we both have Pringles syndrome.  It’s a genetic problem, where once you pop, the fun don’t stop, and you just sort of drink until something interesting happens or you pass out.  I grab a gallon of cider from the place on the corner.  We’re on the other side of Queens, so we request an Uber.  As Seamus rambles about his next set of sculpture ideas, I watch the small car icon circle around the nearby blocks on my phone screen.  The driver is lost, of course.  The driver is six minutes away.  The driver is 18 minutes away.  The driver is approaching.  The driver is seven minutes away.  The driver has arrived.  Bullshit system…

We get in the car.  “Are you Gretchel?”

“Huh?  My name is Gretchen…I don’t really know how that gets messed up…It’s like…a pretty normal name.  Dude, did he just call me Gretchel?  Is that a name, ever?”

“Gretch, shut up, man…who cares?”

“Ugh..”

Seamus is sitting in the front of the car.  The chairs are plush, which is something that reminds me of children and their boogers.  You know, when you’re a kid, and your friend’s mom has that mini van with plush seats, and you just always know that your friend’s little brother rubbed his snot all over the seats, and it will forever be encrusted in the soft material?  Leather seats just make so much more sense…But as I sink into the seat and start to warm up in the heat of the car, I get tired.  The driver is talking to Seamus about the food he used to cook.  He’s from the Caribbean.

“…and we always usin’ de coconut in ou’ cookin’, unnastand?  Now I buy de coconut milk in de sto’.  Bat we used to be crackin’ opun de coconuts and poundin’ de meat wit de wata inside…”  He talks about his cooking a while longer and segues into a monologue about how lizards are pets over here, but in his home country, they’re food.

“When I was a kid,” Seamus starts, “my mom took me to a store where they were selling rabbits and asked me which one I liked best.  I thought we were getting one as a pet, but as soon as I chose it, they hung it up, stuck its throat, and skinned it.  I was horrified.  I can’t eat meat to this day.”

I ignore Seamus’s meatless lifestyle, because I want to stay friends.  I just can’t stand vegetarians or vegans as regular dining companions.  Them and their speeches about where to find protein, as if it was some scavenger hunt.  It’s terrible.  In fact, I went through a phase in which I used that dating app, Tinder, to rebel against the vegan institution. For some reason, lesbians and vegans are almost as mutually inclusive as peanut butter and jelly.  I gave up, though, after I had enough conversations that went like this:

Stranger: “Hey cutie”

Me: “Are you a vegan?”

Stranger: “Um…yes.”

Me: “There is no valid reason for your eating habits.  Please discontinue your useless avoidance of animal products!”

Stranger: “*silence*”…

But that’s neither here nor there.  Or anywhere, maybe.  Anyway, the driver is surprised to hear that Seamus’s mom allowed him to choose what he ate:

“When I was a kid, ya didn’t have no say in what ya madda makin’ fa’ dinnah, son.  If I even look at my madda the wrong way, I get my ass beat.  Back den, you get a beatin fa’ everythin’, son.  And dese days, ya hit ya kid, dey call de cops, an’ it’s a crime.  I tell ya, son, I got a daughta’.  She’s twenty yea’s old.  I say, “we goin’ on vacation.”  I take dem back to my country, I teach ha’ a lessun, son.  I tea’ ha ass up.  And den we come back here, I don’t lift a finga’, son.  But de kids dey don’t have de respect.  I don’t do nuthin’ illegal, son.  But ya gotta teach dem, unnastand?  You know, son? When I play hooky as a kid, my madda break a chai’ ovah my back, son.  She don’ play.  An’ I don’ evah play de hooky again, son.”

As I try to decide if I’m hearing all this right, I begin to feel nauseous.  Who is this guy’s daughter?  Where is she?  What did he do to her?  The plush is on my skin, and the heat makes breathing thick.  My feet and hands tingle and sweat, and my lips are wet with saliva.

“Shay, let’s walk.”  He turns around and looks sorry, embarrassed for not saying anything to the driver, maybe.

“Excuse me… can you pull over, dude?  Here is good.”

“You sho’, son?”

“Yeah.”  We don’t tip the bastard, and he starts mouthing off about the entitlement of our generation as we shut the doors over his lunacy and walk away.  We’re about ten minutes from my place, anyway.

“Shay, that guy was such a douche…like how the fuck does Uber employ people like that?  You can’t fucking say that shit to people you’re driving around.  He was bragging about abusing his fucking daughter.  Like what the fuck is that shit about?  How are we supposed to hear something like that and then not be able to do anything to fucking help?”

“I know.”  We open the cider and start to drink it from the growler as we walk down the street.  I have this theory that there aren’t any cops in Queens.  There are just these garden gnomes that ticket cars parked in the wrong places.  It’s cold, but the cider starts to warm me up and removes the recency of our car ride.  When you’re powerless, sometimes you have to fill up the powerlessness and be it, I have found.  The truth of it makes me sad, sometimes, but it’s a rare occurrence.

We get to my place, and I open the door.  “Jesus H. Christ!” Seamus flares his nostrils and purses his lips at the stench emanating from my building.

“So…there’s this cat that dies in its own feces about once a week in one of these first floor apartments…sorry about that, but I find four days out of seven, the place smells like glade, man.  I swear…”  We run up the four flights of stairs to my place to escape the nastiness, and I shut the door as soon as we’re in to seal out the demons.  One of my roommates, Vanessa, is burning some fucking Yankee Candle in her room that is supposed to smell like cake and fairy poop or grape soda or some bullshit.  It beats the dead cat.

“Gretchen…I don’t even know if that was a cat shit smell,” Seamus continues, bitter for being hostage to scents. “Have you ever heard of scaphism?”

“Is that the one where ancient Greeks took someone they sentenced to death and rubbed them in honey and then force-fed them honey and milk until they were shitting themselves and then tied them in between two canoes with their hands and feet bound outside the canoes so that pests would be attracted to them and come feast on them as they died in their own poop as they floated around in a lake?  I have looked at all the names on the mailboxes here, and they’re all Russian.  I don’t think any of them know about scaphism.  I do think they know about cats.  It’s cats, Shay.”

“If you insist.”  Seamus goes to the fridge for a beer, since we drank all the cider.  I wait for his reaction with a buzzed grin.  “Where is all the Stella!”  There is no beer in the fridge, because I drank it all the other day after a long night at work.

“Can you go to the store?,” I ask, widening my big, blue eyes to make him feel guilty.  “I’m tired and cold.”  Seamus is the laziest bastard on the planet, but I know he’ll do it for me, because he’s secretly in love with me.  It might sound cocky, but it’s true.  It sucks for him, because the Stella was technically his.

My great-great-aunt Barb taught me that you always keep your best friends’ liquor in your house if you’re a good person.  She used to have us sneak airplane bottles of whiskey into the nursing home for the two men in her life (both named Jack, as convenience would have it).  Jack one liked Makers Mark, and Jack two liked Jim Beam.  Jack one was a douchebag, if you ask me.  Now, Jack two, I could respect, because I never held up well against Jim Beam, and as far as I know, Jim Beam was not Jack two’s primary reason for shitting his Depends.  Barb never drank either Jack’s whiskey.  She knew how to keep it chill like a true gangster, and I just don’t have her collectedness.  But I digress.

“Ugh…I hate you…What do you want?”

“Whatever you want, dude.  But actually there’s this place down the street that sells decent white wine for like five bucks on sale, and I don’t really know what’s wrong with it.  I think it’s actually a mistake.  Go grab a couple bottles of that, and we can get house-wife status together.  C’mon.  I have new yarn.  We can scarf-knit race.

“It’s winter!  You want white wine?”

“Yeah please…Or surprise me.  I don’t care.  Grab a bottle of Fernet, actually.  We can Skype Hem!”  Seamus doesn’t really like Hemingway.  He thinks he’s a bad influence on me, but I can’t honestly say who is worse.  And Seamus has only met Hem once.  “OK we don’t have to Skype Hem, but just get ye’ to the store!  Jesus, man, I can feel the sobriety coming on…ain’t nobody got time to be hungover at eight PM.”

“Yes ma’am.”

After he leaves, I open the fridge to look for some food.  I only have some leftover dumplings from a couple days ago.  Vanessa has hummus, and Eddie has spaghetti and meatballs.  I cut off half a meatball and gulp it down, ravenous.  To cover my tracks, I turn the remaining meatball half on its side, propping it up against some spaghetti to make it look whole.  Hopefully, Eddie will be high when he eats it and not really notice or remember the strange half-meatball.  Then, I take a few spoonfuls of Vanessa’s hummus.  Fuck…it’s so good.  I eat half of the tub before putting it back.  I will buy her a new one later.  Or something.

When Seamus gets back, he pulls out two bottles of cold Chardonnay.

“Woooo–the housewife hour is upon us!”

“Woo!”  He smiles, clearly priding himself on his ability to stir up some enthusiasm from my normal monotonous stoicism.

“Oh!  There you are!  With the sun setting so early in the winter, there are only so many hours in a day I can see you when you’re not smiling.”

“Bitchhh…”

“Cheers, dude.”  I open the two bottles, and we drink straight from them, like the fancy people that we are.

“L’chaim, biatch.”

“Something like that.”

The Lost Kids

TWO

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.”

“Hi, Gretchen.”

“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….”

“Gretchen…language, please.”

“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.

“Yeah.”

“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.”

“Do elaborate.”

“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.”

“What?”

“That makeup is to women what garnishes are to food: code for “please eat me.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“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.”

The Lost Kids

ONE

I stopped feeling lonely when I remembered to check in with Hemingway.  It’d been a long time, and the bastard hadn’t texted or called.  But he’s just the type of friend that reminds you you’ve got people despite the ostensible.  I had just finished up with some business on the Upper East.  Stranger things all the time with these narcissistic art people.  One day it’s Warhol and his movie of couples macking it, and the next it’s a guy planning to recreate the film starring himself.  Well, to be honest, I didn’t mind co-starring, considering the money.  I had found the dude online, looking for a girl to come make out for a hundred bucks.  I’m no whore or anything, but money talks, and I’ll be damned if a college education wasn’t enough to teach me that a hundred bucks for twenty minutes of my time is a higher rate than the ten fifty an hour I’m getting downtown at the restaurant.  I took Economics; I know about high risk-high reward.  That is why I went with a pair of scissors in my bag.

When I got to the place, I wasn’t entirely sure about the high risk part, but the address was to a brownstone, so I walked in.  It was a fancy neighborhood.  And yeah, I know about facades, but don’t forget about the high reward part.  So I walked in, and I smelled weed, so I knew I was probably at the right place.  Sure enough, this scruffy artist emerged from the door up the stairs when I knocked.  If you’ve ever met a stranger like this, it goes like “hi”/ “yes, hello..”/ “come in”/ “thank you…” and then the door shuts and they offer for you to put your bag down, and you think about your scissors and locate where the person’s kidneys must be before you see the person’s Shiba Inu in the corner and decide it must be okay and surrender your bag to the offered chair back.

I looked around at his posters, wine bottles, shiny floors, and furniture.  Must be nice, I thought.  I mean, the dude wasn’t young.  Maybe by the time I’m fifty, I won’t be needing roommates either, but that depends on how far I can get in my career before I lose my shit.  A guy at the bank today was asking me if I was a chef at my job, and I was too hungover to smile when I said no.  Everyone assumes you’re the head fucking chef.  I should’ve asked him if he was the owner of the bank.  Anyway, this artist shows me his idea for the film, shows me the windowsill where our makeoutery will occur, shows me his nice filming equipment, etc.  And I’m there like let’s do this thing, because I have a date and I need time to brush your saliva and my guilt out of my gullet beforehand.

So we make out in three different takes.  It’s awkward because I’m tiny and he’s tall, awkward because I haven’t kissed a man in over a year, awkward because it was at once the longest kiss I’ve had in a while and the worst.  I wondered if he agreed it was terrible.  Or if it was his first kiss.  By the end of the last take, I did start to contemplate whether I would sustain post traumatic stress issues from it, but there was this healing moment when he handed me the hundred dollar bill.  I was like, well that’s what that bill looks like.  And then I got all socialist and divided the money amongst a number of bars downtown.  No trauma was sustained.

So anyway, I woke up the other day feeling all crappy and alone in the world.  I got out of bed and walked to the corner for a bagel, and Ishan finally stopped questioning me on my untoasted bagel preference.  It felt OK to be accepted on that end, but being a regular at the bagel shop wasn’t the sense of belonging I was looking for at the moment.  I bought a scratch off and lost.  It was one of those stupid crossword ones.  I used to win them sometimes–fifty bucks, once.  But anyway, when I went back up to my apartment, I saw something my cousin posted on Facebook about France, and I thought of Hemingway.  I love the guy, but I think moving to Paris after college was a douche move on his part.  Look, I hate America too, but New York is easily as good as Paris, and either way you slice it, Ebola will get to every country eventually.  So maybe I’m a little bitter that he left.  But we have our adventures overseas from each other, and when we compare notes, it’s more of the same shenanigans.

I hadn’t checked in with him in a while, so I pulled up my last email to him to see where I left him.  It read,

“Hey man,

How’s that Paris life treating you, you fancy fuck?  Come back to New York so we can sit in bars together and talk about the merits of butt sex when we’re sitting next to people who are clearly on their first date!  I miss you.  I’m finally settling into my new neighborhood, and I think it might be a secret lesbian Mecca.  I’m not sure yet, so I’ll keep you posted, but I’m seeing a lot of butch haircuts and Birkenstocks.  Oh.  And there’s this lady who rides around town in a scooter for disabled people with a parrot on her shoulder.  A goddamn parrot!  They don’t write this shit in the movies.

I had the weirdest night last weekend.  Remember I told you about the girl I went home with from that 80s party?  Well I ran into her at this bar the other night, and it was awkward, because I left her that fucked up haiku about sorry for falling asleep in the middle of it, and it turned out she was straight anyway.  Total wannabe bi girl, but straight as an arrow.  On the bright side, she let me crash on her couch after the bar.  And her roommate offered me coffee and a phone charge when I woke up like it was some four star hotel or something.  I’m not making this up.  And we got to talking about beer, and she gave me a bottle of her favorite brew.  I’m pretty sure I’m ok with free beer from kind, cute strangers.  Unfortunately, I don’t think she was hitting on me, though.  Everyone wants a big butch these days.  I don’t get that.  I made this horrible mistake of eschewing the institution of categories, and it’s not working out well.  Someone called me a chapstick lesbian, but I’m thinking I’m more of a “needs chapstick lesbian.”  Real talk though, this weather is drying out my lips like a motherfucker.  Maybe that’s the issue.

How are you, though?  I feel like I only get random snapchats from you all captioned, “Don’t drop the baguette!” from various raves you’ve attended.  You really need to come up with a catchier phrase.  Haha..catchy…I think I’m punny.  Speaking of, how are the boys?  I’m guessing they love your American ass, but who knows.  I’ve heard Parisians can be bitches.  I want to hear about your life!

Love you,

Gretch”

He had responded,

“Gretchennnn!  I miss you more.  Calm your horses on this meeting people thing.  It sounds like you’re getting enough for us both.  And what the hell with these nice people inviting you into their homes and offering you free beer in the morning?  Was there a turn down service?  I don’t understand.  I’ve been kicked out of people’s flats here.  Like “OK, this is not a thing, bye, I’m going to bed, go back to whatever arrondissement you came from.”

Still, though, I have been having a lot of fun.  I finally straightened shit out with my work visa, so I can finally get a job.  I don’t want to work, but I’m down to my final Euro, and I’m getting a little partied out, too.  These French people can hang!  Like if you and I thought our blood was made of a 30% wine solution, I fear for the vampire that tries to feast on the Parisians.

You’re done with “don’t drop the baguette”?!  It still gets me every time.  Unclear why.  Ughhh wait so this is so annoying, but I think all French toilets are low-flush.  Everyone has a toilet brush for deuce-dropping purposes, and it freaks me out.  I think as soon as I get rich, I’m gonna get a fancy, American style toilet in my place.  It’s awful.

Oh, I actually do have a story for you.  So I met this guy at a club, and we left at like two in the morning, which is pretty early still for me these days, and we went to buy some blow.  We each do like two small lines, go back to the club, dance our asses off, and then leave to go back to his place.  And at this point, we were starting to come down and we bumped some to keep going (he was going to skip work).  So we’re walking into his place, and this tiny little old lady catches me grinding my teeth a little, and she grabs me by the arm (you know that intense old lady grip–like rivaling Jack and Rose in Titanic).  She looks me in the eyes like she knows what’s up, and then she says in this raspy French, “can I get some?” I died.  She had to be like 90 years old.  I absolutely did not give an old lady coke, but nonetheless…what is my life coming to?

Alright, well I have to go, but we should Skype sometime.  I know our schedules never work, but you know…one day.

Bye, bitch (haha my phone always auto-corrects it to butch!  It knows!)

Hem”

What a guy.  Basically the male version of me, but not at all.  I thought about booking a trip to see him, but I was pretty damn sure I wouldn’t have the money until tax returns come in.  I mean, with my luck, I’ll owe money back to the government, but whatever.  I hate thinking about the government.  Just the other day, my friend, Jen, was telling me her family was all on her dick to vote.  And I didn’t vote either.  The way she saw it, her parents were Republican for money reasons.  And she has Democratic values, but she’s also not making enough money to give a shit either way.  We decided we are definitely fucked either way, so fuck voting.  At least until we read up on what exactly is going on.  We are pretty sure no one really knows.