The Process

Tag: music

The Usual Crises and Boring Shit

In a room of talking bodies–I am one of them–I’m looking at the
rest, each glance sounding off a little wish in my head.  I wish I were…
that lazy looking, low-belted bro, the girl that subsists on just coke, the now-long-sober dude, the girl in the either ironic or stupid-sincere t-shirt: I wish I were anyone.  Even as I’ve come to suspect A Body Can Only Know Anyone Besides Itself, I’m bound by the perception that everyone here defies that notion, wrapped up in their enigmatic but clear designs, and the bindings tighten around my regret for my choice of pants.  If I could tell anyone about myself beyond the basic physical and occupational facts, I could hardly think of anything more than a list of things I am not.  And because people these days have eyes, half my potential parlor conversation is obsolete.  I Am A Cooking Person rarely makes the cut unless you’re talking to someone incredibly narcissistic.  Where do you work?  What kind of food do you cook?  What’s your specialty (the worst question)?  It is difficult to steer a conversation less than by saying “I don’t currently work, the only major cuisines I don’t cook much at all are Japanese and Ethiopian, and I don’t really have a specialty unless fried bologna sandwiches counts.”  Out of context, I guess I sound like a real winner.  But context is just that, and long ago I lost a spark for the type of varied inflection that captures an audience as well as anything to say that might call for such melody.  A joke on myself, I might make, and then make a joke on that one.  Something like, A Real Winner I Am, See?  And then something like, Well, What, Haven’t You Ever Had A Fried Bologna, Jim?, Tough Crowd, Jesus.  And just flat like that, unyielding, boring music.  Like a song you turn off when something fun comes on TV.  It’s the sound in my head, too: when I see, read, hear such things…flat footnotes loom up in each pause in whatever medium, mad at the similes I used to like, bored at almost any poetics, mostly Romantics, like “Oh, but was it as vague as etchings on glass (one I understood and nearly liked–sorry Patti Smith, who I adore–I also mocked)?”  It happens with most work: by writers, chefs, artists, politicians– I gnaw it all away and rarely find a strong bone beneath all the rotting flesh attached: their respective masturbatory description (somehow always full-hearted and VERDANT), cabbage shoulders and onion crumbles, obtuse color blocks, jargon and lies–and I make myself out of what I won’t be compared to what exists, and I don’t have attributes but I can sure say what qualities cancel out those in anyone else right back down to rot.  But often there are bones enough to hold them together, and that point thinks at/on/in me enough to want some flesh on mine.  Sardonic skeleton, depart.  Let me codify as and name myself as anything, maybe a series of 1’s and 0’s rather than “not 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 9,” maybe a seer of true flesh over an exposer of the rotten.

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…