So It Goes

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"air and light and time and space"

"—-you know, I’ve either had a family, a job, something
has always been in the
way
but now
I’ve sold my house, I’ve found this
place, a large studio, you should see the space and
the light
for the first time in my life I’m going to have a place and the time to
create.”

no baby, if you’re going to create
you’re going to create whether you work
16 hours a day in a coal mine
or
you’re going to create in a small room with 3 children
while you’re on
welfare,
you’re going to create with part of your mind and your
body blown
away,
you’re going to create blind
crippled
demented,
you’re going to create with a cat crawling up your
back while
the whole city trembles in earthquake, bombardment,
flood and fire.

baby, air and light and time and space
have nothing to do with it
and don’t create anything
except maybe a longer life to find
new excuses
for. 

—Charles Bukowski

The Jazz Butcher’s album Fishcotheque was released in 1988. It’s a record that I have owned in three different formats (vinyl, CD and MP3) and one that I’ve played roughly a billion times. Ten minutes ago, I finally realized that the title is a play on lead singer Pat Fish’s name. This makes me feel both super smart and ridiculously, ridiculously stupid.

Reps.

So the other night I was at the gym, staring at my watch and hoping that in the next twenty seconds I’d be able to remember whether I’d already done four sets or only three. Before my Timex bleeped to tell me that it was time to pick the bar up again, a pair of twentysomething girls came up the stairs and crossed the room. They might’ve been two or three Chuck Taylor-lengths past me when one of them sort of tosses her head in my direction and says “Yeah, I do not want to look like that.” 

To borrow a line from Mike Birbiglia, what I should’ve said was nothing. What I actually said was “I don’t want to look like me either. That’s why I’m here every day.” Both of them stared at me with their oversized anime eyes, their jaws silently dropping past the hems of their capri pants. There wasn’t really anything else to say, so I went back to my now-overdue deadlifts and they scurried off to the corner to start doing something with one of those exercise balls, the kind the copywriter in your office uses as a desk chair.

But when I was walking home with storm clouds gathering in the back of my throat, I thought of all the other things that I wanted to say. You don’t want to look like me? Fine. You’re probably not going to, because I get the feeling that we have totally different goals. And somewhere between Wythe Avenue and Berry Street, I realized that my goals have nothing to do with the way I look, for good or bad. I like being strong, stronger than I’ve been in my entire life. I like feeling capable, I like lifting a little more weight than I did six months ago or six weeks ago or even six days ago. And I like the confidence that comes with that, the kind of confidence that doesn’t always show up if you spend your time measuring your progress against your own reflection. Or against a total stranger who’s sweating through her threadbare Huey Lewis tour shirt. 

I’d also tell her that maybe she should set, like, a more concrete goal. How hard do you have to work to NOT be something? I mean, sure, I’m not exactly sending love letters to either one of my legs but saying “I don’t want them to look like that” isn’t going to get me as far as “I want to squat 100KG by the end of the year.” (Although those of you who’ve seen my squat know that brilliant idea probably won’t get me anything other than a day trip to Disappointment either. BUT STILL!)

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just tired or maybe I’m overanalyzing or maybe it’s an assortment of things. Or maybe I just need a new desk chair.

Action Verbs

I’d just gotten off the J Train and was heading to the boxing gym when the dad and daughter in front of me stopped suddenly. He dropped her hand—she was probably 7 or 8, but I’m terrible at judging these things so she might’ve been 40—turned to face the Greek-lite Chambers Street station and said “Let’s selfie!” 

I’m not gonna lie, his enthusiasm and her willingness to go along with it were both adorable. Being sentimental is rarely my default setting, so I’m always totally surprised by it. I immediately shrugged my backpack higher on my shoulders and walked faster toward the crosswalk, thinking about nothing but ducking and swerving and keeping my elbows tight. 

But I did look back, just once, in time to see him pocket his phone and take her hand again. And that was pretty goddamn cute. 

Knockout Stage

I was just staring—unashamed, wide eyed, open mouthed staring—at an insanely good looking guy, one with a sharp suit, sharper cheekbones and the kind of shoulders that never let his shirtsleeves catch their breath. “This soccer cup just started,” I heard him say to his friend. “And I’m already friggin’ sick of it.”

He doesn’t know it, but we broke up about twenty seconds ago.

A small child just stopped in front of me on the sidewalk, pointed what I’m assuming was her magic wand at me and said “You can’t go to the ball looking like THAT!” 

Brooklyn is HARSH, you guys. And, to make it a billion times worse, I wasn’t even invited to the ball.

A small child just stopped in front of me on the sidewalk, pointed what I’m assuming was her magic wand at me and said “You can’t go to the ball looking like THAT!”

Brooklyn is HARSH, you guys. And, to make it a billion times worse, I wasn’t even invited to the ball.

We had wound up, instead, as wannabes, geeks, professional worshippers, the sort of guys and dolls who walk around with songs ringing in our ears at all hours, who acquire albums compulsively, who fall in love with one record per week minimum and cannot resist telling people—people frankly not that interested—what they should be listening to and why and forcing homemade compilations into their hands and then calling them to see what they thought of those compilations, in particular the syncopated handclaps on track fourteen. 

—Steve Almond, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life 

This man—this man who I have never met—might understand me more than I understand myself. And he definitely understands me more than the recipient of that last mix CD, the one that kicked off with a Robert Wyatt cover of “I’m a Believer” and ended with a ballad by a seventies singer-songwriter who is rarely described without some seasonal varietal of the word “failed.”  

But really, what did you think about those handclaps? 

Plus One

I’m never getting married,
I proudly remind people at any opportunity:
on first dates, during commercial breaks,
waiting for prime rib at a wedding reception.

Never, I unnecessarily repeat, my italicized emphasis
cutting in line, elbowing their unrelated thoughts
out of the way.
They’d been wondering about the origins of the
Electric Slide
about the purpose of charger plates,
about the cool pink center of perfect medium rare

'I don't need a gift registry!
I have kitchen shit I don’t use,
an abandoned George Foreman, an unemployed blender,’
is the next thing I say when I’m sober.

'I don't want to make promises
that I’m incapable of keeping,’
is the next thing I say when I’m not.

In both cases, I force feed the listener from
a buffet of congealed views on
fidelity and commitment,
claiming that I can’t—or don’t—understand any of it.
All that you can eat, more than you can stomach.

Friends and semi-strangers and those unfortunate
enough to be seated beside me nod silently,
lips tight, eyes racing across my shoulders
toward the closest conversational exit

A band being paid an hourly rate
plays a Jackson Browne song.

I’m thirty-four, old enough to realize that there’s a thin line
between independence and loneliness,
a line thinner than the card stock
on the flimsiest Save the Dates, the cheapest invitations.

I’m not sure I believe in my words any more
than I believe in the vows I’ll never say
but I’ve let my insistence define me
much longer than it should’ve.
An aging child star, forced to repeat her catch phrase
at fan club conventions.

But rather than reflect or, even worse
reevaluate,
I’ve reprised my one-hit, added a new verse,
dropped a mix-tape remix.

'Penguins are the only other mammals who
even PRETEND
to be monogamous,’ I say in all caps,
quickly hiding several essential facts
under the parquet dance floor.

I think it’s penguins, but it could be
hedgehogs or the brightly colored birds
painted on Caribbean postcard stamps
or some other animal you
can’t picture having sex.

I’m thirty-four and it’s still two hours until
my fifth glass of this couple’s
signature cocktail 
will lead to a year of bad decisions
with the maid-of-honor’s stepfather.

This could be more Jackson Browne
or a Van Morrison B-side.
The lead singer is unconvincing when he
coughs out either man’s words,
an unreliable narrator even when he
says good night.

I’m twelve, asthmatic and wheezing
in the thick air of summer camp dusk,
watching cabins pair off to make promises
they’ll forget when their parents show up.

I cut a neat X across my palm that night,
even though no one asked me to.
I stand in the gathering dark, feeling the blood
slide down my fingers before dripping
silently to the dirt.