just burn down the house, burn down the street.
It's overwhelming, scary and satisfying, how everything seems to wind up all at once. I haven't even begun to tear down the mirrors and tear down the walls, roll up posters, pack up cds, pack boxes with books, separate the important clothes from the useless clothes, dismantle my computer. I'll have to do laundry, at some point. I actually need to find time to shop for a cell phone (shudder). Before long I'll pull my sheets from my bed, carry my guitar downstairs, stuff papers into folders. Pull pins from corkboard, pack photos into cigar boxes. Wrap wire around stereo speakers. Fold socks and jeans. This morning, as I sipped my Dunkies, the good people at Jiffy Lube
loaded the old '79 Land Shark with a fresh batch of synthetic oil. I've got to pack a few things up and ship them off. My bedroom should be kept pristine, for future visitors, for my occasional return. For a clean break, and for all the junk my mom is sure to move in here.
Things come down all at the same time, and your life is set ablaze. Tomorrow I'm heading down to my high school to speak to two classes of 11th graders (who have just finished As I Lay Dying
) about Faulkner's brilliant and frustrating use of first-person narrative voice in several of his books. Afterwards, I'm planning to drop by and help my grandmother find a new ribbon for her typewriter. I finished my federal taxes, I think, but not my state. Refund, refund. There are dinners to prepare, sisters to pick up from the bus. Three-paragraph-long posts must be written. Will business and productivity at the golf course
collapse once I'm gone? (Probably not, but if I don't teach Will and Willy how to get things done on computer and in the kitchen now, they're sure to be calling me every two hours, forever.) I've managed to tidy up most of my emailing, put off too much of my phone calling, brainstorm only half of my travelling web plans.
And peppered in throughout come final visits to friends. I do not usually miss people when I am away from them, but something feels a bit different this time. I spent Friday night dancing with Chrissy and Liz; Saturday night walking and laughing with Matt, Katie and Jenn; Monday night enjoying drinks, burgers and cards with Jonas, Dan, Adam, Jonah, and Dave; Wednesday night eating a yummy homemade meal at Erik and Kevin's apartment. After nightly dinners in my kitchen I flee from the messy table, too busy to talk longer with my family. I barely have time to stop by the clubhouse and chat with Mike, or Ted. I know I wont have a chance to say goodbye to several of my friends. I'm not getting enough sleep. In the midst of the bustle, though, I worry about what Dave will do when I'm gone, how my sister will survive life with our parents without me. And I can't decide which scares me more: the thought that I'll be easily let go of and my absence will be quickly smoothed over, or the thought that my departure will leave some kind of unfillable void in the lives of people that I care about for a long time to come.
I found myself intrugued by all the men pacing about the one corner of the grocery store at 5:25 pm wearing dirty Carharts, business suits, sweatshirts, scruffy beards, wire-rimmed glasses and blank looks on their faces. The'd become dazed, somehow, in the retail transition between work and romance. You can tell what they're thinking ("Um... okay. Those are flowers, and they look pretty good. Or she might like those. But hey, those roses are in pretty good condition. Hmm. There's some pinkish flowers over there. Does she like pink? She probably does. And those ones smell... flowery. She'll like those, I bet.") as they walk around, picking things up and putting them down, glancing over at the customer service counter.
I selected a small pot with ten or so white blooms that looked to be snuggling together, half asleep, on well-made bed of smooth, speckled leaves. Cyclamen, the label said, Grown in Canada. And out of them all, one single petal of one single flower offered up a thin, eye-catching stripe of bright fuschia.
I've never been a big fan of bouqets; there's something not quite right about giving someone a conical group of cut flowers, wrapped in plastic. You hand them to your Special Someone as if to say, "Our love, like these beautiful but recently severed plants, will probably be dead within ten days." And, sometimes, we decide to throw a little dead babies' breath in with the roses that express that love.
In the slow-moving check out line, my sister and I waited to pay for our group of less-than-12-items: a foil balloon reading, "Love You, Mom", a 20oz bottle of Coke, a glue stick, and a pound of pasta salad. Alyssa asked, "How would you combine these items to have yourself a good time?"
I looked over at the disoriented, pimply-faced cashier and thought for a moment. "Well," I said, "I would sip the bubbly soda and enjoy the aromatic pleasantries of the flowers while gluing pasta onto the helium balloon... to make a bird feeder bearing delicious gitfs as it floats freely up to the heavens. How about you?
She looked down at our items wating patiently on the black conveyor belt. "I'd glue the Cyclamen around the edge of the balloon to make one big hovering flower.... And I'd pour the Coke into the pasta salad container to make a tasty caffinated treat, because I'm tired and hungry."
last night at 12:25 i was driving home in the 92 camry when i got pulled over at the intersection where south meadow road splits off from federal furnace road. the camry has a standard transmission and i tend to drive it like a racecar. i had to hurry home to call my brother. plus, i was listening to the white stripes, and rock 'n roll will do that to you. "oh, great," i thought to myself, "what an efficient way to toss a bunch of cash you needed to save for the journey to california straight out the driver's side window." the cop was quite polite, dispensing with the usual flashlight-in-the-eyes, "where are you going, where have you been" type bullshit. he went back to his squad car with only my license, and i fumbled around in the glovey until i found the car's registration. i sat still for a second. then, to pass the time, i ate the banana in my coat pocket. and i was thinking, "man, how ridiculously convenient is a banana? it's like, the naturally perfect snack, completely edible save the easily removable casing. there's even a tab at the end of the casing, to help you peel it off. and they're soft. you could eat a banana without teeth. i mean, grapes are the best fruit, in my opinion, but you still have to wash them. nobody washes bananas." then, concluding these thoughts, i rediscovered that i was presently being pulled over for speeding. it was a rather harsh post-banana reality. i considered tossing the peel out through the window to slip the copper up with a funny physical gag, but i thought better of it. which was good, because he happily handed me only a written warning, even though he said i was doing 59 in a 30.
Where the Sidewalk Ends.
You know you're at a good party when a slightly disheveled kid in a green sweater vest stumbles across the basement, sits down on the edge of a sink that's been lying on the floor next to you and says, "Ohhhh, doooood. I really shouldn't have drank all that absynthe."
We all turn and stare at him. He's smiling, mostly, and he looks like he'll be okay by dawn, assuming he can avoid further standing, talking, and sipping. My friend Lin gives him a cigarette, which he accepts with a far away look in his eye, as if he's only now beginning to contemplate The Importance of Drinking Absynthe. And all at once, he blinks twice, sits upright, and runs out of the room in a dimly-lit emerald blur of vest and flailing arms. Someone should chase after him, but everyone in our neck of the basement is too busy debating whether the active ingredient in the ghetto-red sugar punch is anti-freeze or Clearasil.
From the lawn chair where I'm sitting I can see dozens of people, a brick chimney, walls doused with tasteful graffiti, lots of exposed pipework, an empty birdcage, some empty beercans, a Bruins logo painted on the floor, and two Asian girls on a couch who refuse to smile at me. There are also a great many sheets strewn over clotheslines to create false walls; a nice effect, because the basement seems about 75% less crappy/more cozy than it would have otherwise. And they've got some early-Warp-Records-sounding tunes pumping quietly from across the room. It's clear that a bunch of art-school chicks live here. Everyone's smoking.
I've finished my punch and I don't want more. I'm amusing my friends by walking out from behind the chimney doing various visual gags. Just as I come to the conclusion that the chimney is comedy gold, the lights by the couch and in the birdcage go out. I trip over the sink, fumble behind the sheets, and eventually discover that the extension cord to both lamps leads up through a hole in the ceiling to the room above. "Ladies and gentlemen, have no fear," I announce to the group. "I am on the case!"
I stroll across the basement, weave in and out of the croud, bump my head on a hanging flourescent light fixture, pass a soft-skinned punkish girl with unbelievable pale-blue eyes, and ascend the dank stairs. Things seem much more lively in the kitchen. This dark-haired kid appears and starts passionately preaching to me about Bright Eyes, Led Zepplin, Coltrane, and how he wants me to be the drummer in has band because no one at his school listens to good music. It all makes a little sense. I think his name is Dan.
"They all think Creed is, like, the best music that's made anywhere," he explains, between sips of straight vodka. "Anywhere, dude! On the whole fucking earth!"
I'm staring at some chick's overalls and running through mental floorplans of the apartment, trying to figure out which room the extension cord must have originated in. "Right," I say, realizing he had stopped talking. "What school do you go to, anyway?"
"Emmanuel, man. Emmanuel. I'm a freshman." He extends his right hand four about the fourth time during what has thus far been a 90 second conversation.
I slap shake his hand and and reply, "I'd love to drum with you, dude. But isn't Emmanuel an all-girl's school?" He first lets out a confused laugh as I move away toward the main hall, and then begins to fall down the basement stairs.
It's really a nice apartment--well decorated, and with hardwood floors. I poke around a bit, drink half an abandoned beer, and head into one of the bedrooms. I pass unacknowledged through a group of three friends having a serious conversation about love. In the back of the room, behind a poorly-placed desk and a standing Japanese screen, I find a girl who has passed out both on her face and on the other end of the famous extension cord. I lift up her right arm and push the plug back into the outlet. My action is accompanied by the faint sound of cheering. The mufflled sounds of joy float up through the hole in the floor.
Back in the hallway, I open up a door that I figure must lead to a bathroom, and I find myself standing face-to-face with Dan in the smallest bedroom of all time. "My excellent good friend!", I yell, as we shake hands. It's just like old times, back in the kitchen, except he's finished his vodka. The room is literally a bed stuffed into a closet, with only about two feet of additional space between the mattress and the door.
"This closet room is bad-ass," he exclaims. "I've just been checking it out."
"I can see that, Mr. Emmanuel," I reply. The room is like a small tent. "Hey, you know what you could do with this room that would be hilarious? If you brought a chick back to the apartment, and she decided that she wanted to take off and go home, you could say, 'Okay, babe. Just grab your coat out of the closet.' And then when she opened the door you could just PUSH HER INTO THE BED and jump in after her to get busy!"
Emmanuel Dan immediately begins to jump up and down with enthusiastic laughter. "Yes! Yes, dude! Totally. Girls would love that shit. You could so get laid that way! And you could just keep on pushing more and more girls inside, and have an orgy!"
Above the bed, on the back wall of the closet, I spy a drawing of a bowl of flowers. I'm not listening to what he's saying, and I'm not really listening to what I'm saying. I look down at my watch, and it's not even that late. I decide then and there to blow this popsicle stand, but I hover for a moment first.
Dan is out in the hallway now, telling someone else about the closet thing, so I yell to him. "Dude, have you seen a chimpanzee around here?"
He turns and holds up his newfound can of Bush Light. "Yeah, dude. Yeah! In the front room!", he burps. We embrace goodbye, shake hands again, and I head off to find Monkey.
The hallway leads me toward the front door, then bends around to the right. The girls who live here have hung some very cool plastic lights from the ceiling. I float along, passing at least a head above all the soundboys drinking Heineken and all the artchicks holding wineglasses. Sure enough, I find the little bastard in the back of the half-crowded living room, looking at DeKooning prints at a table with a tall blond girl who's wearing sexy indie-rock glasses. Monkey's bowtie is loosened, and he's calmly running his furry fingers through this girl's hair. I watch them for a second. She's talking to him about Alzheimer's disease and the artistic process.
I light up a cigarette. "Monkey, let's get the fuck out of here," I said, slowly and clearly.
He turns his hairy face toward me and stared with those little beady eyes, then smacked his lips. "I'm not a fucking monkey," he growls. "I'm a chimp. Call me a monkey again and I'll go apeshit on your ass."
I throw my head back in mock laughter and light up a cigarette. "Shut up, Monkey," I say. "You're very funny, you know. Frickin' hilarious. I'm sure your date here is very impressed." The blonde lifts her head and stares at me for a moment, then lookes back down at her stack of prints. Monkey pulls his hand away from her hair.
"You're such a dick sometimes, Gantz," he mumbles, tightening his bowtie. "Why can't we ever just hang out at parties like normal people?"
"Sure. Right. I guess everybody's got something to hide except me and you." I turn and begin to head toward the hallway, then yell back for him to hurry his ass up. Eventually he bounds after me, but not before I have to yank on his arm a few times. What a pain.
We head out the front door, step onto the sidewalk, climb into my Camry, and speed off toward downtown Boston. The cold February air keeps me shivering until the car's heat starts to kick in.
"Maybe you should bring a coat next time," Monkey mutters under his breath.
"I have a coat, fool," I snap. "It's in the trunk, remember? I don't like to wear it while I drive."
"That's because you're an idiot," he replies in his most facetious voice. I really want to punch him, but I am a little punchdrunk, and decide I'd better concentrate on driving.
We zoom along Huntington, listening to whatever happes to be on the radio, then cut down Mass Ave for the hell of it. We both stare out through the windsheild at the crowds, at the passing women carrying handbags, at brakelights, at black guys asking for change, at white drunks sleeping on the busstop benches. Every building is lit up from the inside, architechtural LiteBrite; some windows yellow, some blue, and some pitch black. I merge onto Storrow Drive because I know speeding along that reverse curve tends to put us both in a good mood. The river looks great, from here, and I downshift into fourth just to hear the engine whir a little.
"Monkey," I say, "I need a beer to wash the taste of that punch out of my mouth."
"Me too, Gantz," he agrees. "Me too."
I park in a pay lot, and before long we find ourselves stepping into a cozy little bar in the Government Center area. We get a couple of Newcastles and a couple of funny looks. They're showing Olympic highlights on the TVs, and they've got the best bar band I've heard in a while on stage covering Sublime, early U2, late Beatles, Little Richard, The Clash, Sugar Ray and the like. We start tapping our toes, and I reach over and muss up the fur on Monkey's head and back. He giggles and punches me in the ass, then starts to do his silly-looking jungle version of the Robot dance, which always makes me laugh. One of the guys on stage is soloing with both a guitar and a trombone at the same time; it's incredible to watch, and people start clapping and shaking. Monkey and I start really moving our bodies, dancing and jumping and turning and swinging our hips in unison. After a few minutes we begin to dance only on the white tiles of the checkerboard floor: this takes special focus, but the rhythm it brings is satisfying.
Suddenly, everything in the room goes dark. The amps and house P.A. system cut out, and for a moment only the sound of the drummer whacking his snare and symbols fills the air. The TVs are black, the windows are black, the band hangs soundless, and in a split-second, everyone in the bar begins to chatter. The power has gone out, pure and simple, and as the bartenders light candles, I turn away from Monkey and look around the bar. I see dozens of groups of friends, sipping from glasses, laughing and shaking their heads, sitting comfortably, toasting the electric company, or smilling in the dim lighting, without a clue or a care for whatever events might be happening elsewhere outside this one small room.