written in JUNE 2010
there were about five of us sitting in a line after closing time at the restaurant. we sat along the green-lit bar with our cigarettes all poised to be fired and no one intending to go home just yet.
One, two, three, four, a couple more in and using shot glasses filled with water as ash trays, we leaned over the bar elbows deep and glancing at each other with tired half smirks. we waited till the last two customers left and then we all began to smoke inside. we tossed and slid cigarettes across the shiny slim bar to one another trading and sharing and flicking lighters and offering a light and then pulling it away at the last nano-second and laughing in each other’s face and saying “light it yourself!”
he went behind the DJ booth and by the time he emerged, al green was rolling out loud from the speakers and time felt good.
chatter, laughter emerged from the cloud of smoke that grew to a hover around the bar stools. he said, “i’ll never lose my sex drive” to which i replied, “give yourself ten to fifteen years and it will have dissipated like all the other abstract goals and realities you once clung to” like the ashes of your cigarettes your fake laughter and your liver’s ability to function.
then he began to say “well i’ll live forever smoking and drinking and i’ll be immortal and all the people who eat veggies and work out… they’ll all die!”
normally, every day normally, the sheer nonsense of clown town gets to me – but what’s the point of letting nonsense get to you if it’s just that – clown town. never give in.
there were two gay boys at the end of the bar and they looked incredibly similar, they both had hip little glasses and scruffy faces and a bit of a belly. then there was me, and the other one, and her, and him. and we four leaned in to each other laughing about nothing, and i glanced at myself in the green-lit mirror with the bottles of vodka framing my face and hair pulled back all sharp-like with a few stray pieces settling nicely against my cheeks, little to no makeup on, and thought to myself, “I haven’t showered in two days but i feel fine.”
the air in cleveland on such a night is a june-ish cool, probably a breeze coming from the lake down yonder. the lake, our greatest asset which we leave behind like a three-legged dog. our lake which is part of one of the biggest fresh water resources in the entire world – and we do nothing with it, in fact we pollute it and sometimes swim in it, but with germ scares no one really swims in lakes or creeks anymore. and we get allergies because our immunities aren’t developed and then we pay a lot of money for medications and immunotherapy and more money for research into why this is happening when maybe as kids we should have just learned to EAT DIRT.
and then he said, “well i’m going home and you’d better walk her to her car,” which means that even though the area was artsi-fied and theatre-fied and boutiques and bars built up around it, the memory of the poor people walking past the front windows and the homeless men shambling in through our front door was still there, almost as though the past of this place had been covered up by shiny storefronts.
and so we gathered our thoughts and our things. we walked to the back parking lot where still, seeing you had forgotten to roll up the windows of your car, all your other worries would come rushing back because you’d think, “how could i have forgotten to roll up the windows at this particular parking lot at this particular area of cleveland.” and all the things you’d forgotten about for a few moments behind the curtain of smoke at the green-lit bar with the people who annoyed you so much during the work day—but were different after closing-time when we could smoke indoors—would return.
and i still remember the time when he walked me to my car and then stopped halfway in the parking lot and lit a cigarette to burn yet another millimeter off his lung tissue, and then as i was about to crawl into the driver’s seat he yelled back at me, “you can be whatever you want to be.” i turned around and saw him standing in the middle of the parking lot. that night the moon was big and bulbous like a lightbeam from an oncoming car.
and i still wonder how such things are possible in a place that feels like a hole. but such things are possible, and it’s there.