Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On (Technically) Saturday

Lettuce, tomato, onion, four pickles, set aside, repeat.  Lettuce, tomato, onion.  Lettuce, onion, pickle.  Grab the bacon, ‘scuse me I’m behind ya.  Hey! I need an egg on that.  I need an egg.  YO I NEED AN EGG.  Here comes the buns, then the burgers.  Cheese, mayo, ketchup, mustard.  Close it, now wrap it.  ORDER UP.  Repeat.  I try to ignore the clock ever since I noticed it hanging in the lobby.  I don’t know why I have the urge to count down the minutes, it’s not like I get any relief when my shift ends at 4am.  I know all it means is that I’ll go back home to my loneliness and boredom.  Maybe write a little or read, hug Brooklyn and have a beer.  I look forward to work every week.  It’s the only chance I get to get outside my head for a bit, focus on something else.  Yet there I am, counting down the minutes with every lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, which is what we call The Works at The Brown Bag, by the way.
By time I get home I always feel sick.  It’s a pit of my stomach kind of nausea.  I don’t know if its smelling the food without eating all night, or stress from having to be alone again, or maybe I’m just kinda tired and it’s my body’s way of saying fuck you.  Hell if I know, but it’s always there, making it hard to eat, hard to sleep, hard to focus on anything really.  Tonight I sit in my car for a minute and force down some cold pizza that Barry at the Tavern gave me before my shift, then I slip inside and turn on my light.  Its 5:23am now, and I’ve settled in with my computer.  I’m half way through my first beer, sitting cross legged on my futon in my underwear.  Brooklyn is passed out on the body pillow that he claimed for himself the day I got it.  I hear Ziva say something upstairs, the mice beneath the heat vent, Duchess whimper on the porch, my clock ticking, ticking away.  Just like the one on the wall at The Brown Bag.  Counting down the minutes to what I don’t know anymore.  Maybe sleep, maybe tomorrow.  Or maybe just SOMETHING.  Something that I don’t know, something that I need, something that will change this mundane routine of loneliness, self-pity and the wounds I never licked from all those yesterdays.  
There is no lack of things to do.  My room desperately needs cleaning and I never fully unpacked.  My instruments are in the corner waiting to be played.  I’m half way through a Charles De Lint novel and in the middle of three writing projects.  Yet I’m stuck on the bed helplessly staring at the walls, whispering to them of my sorrows, listening to the clock, counting still.  The sun begins to rise.  Black silhouettes of bare trees emerge out my window before a teal colored sky, making my white curtain glow.  I smoke one more cigarette and finish my second beer, then curl up deep inside my sleeping bag.  When I sleep I dream of strange lands and people I’ve never met before, or maybe they were traveling acquaintances once who I have long since forgot.  A man in a space ship takes me away.  In Africa an owl attacks me, suspended on a rope in the middle of a cavern, I kill it and we float to the ground together.  The man takes me to more far away lands.  Athens, Egypt, home, space.  I have a kangaroo and take it back with me.  It walks on a lease beside Brooklyn, with boxing gloves.  I dream of a friend I have, he won’t speak to me.  I sit on the floor before him, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” I beg.  There’s only our silence.  Then I wake up with the Kangaroo still in my head. 
I think it’s the morning still at first, the house is silent.  Brooklyn has pushed my door open and is nowhere in sight.  I call to him and he returns good naturedly.  After a quick puppy snuggle I reach for my phone and see that it’s nearly three.  8 hours to work, a new count down has begun.  I finish off the pizza Barry from the Tavern gave me and play guitar for awhile, but I haven’t been able to write a new song since I’ve moved here, so I get frustrated quickly.  At sunset I go to the swing sets and listen to music, watching the sky turn from orange to pink, violet then indigo.  It’s cold, and I forgot my stupid raccoon hat, but I don’t go home till well past dark.  I stay there, swinging away, only pausing to light a smoke every now and then, while my cheeks and ears burn with the wind, but I don’t notice that.  I’m lost in a daydream, somewhere far away.  Somewhere where I’m confident and laughing, and I don’t feel alone anymore.  I cross my fingers and call it December, then hop off the swings and slowly walk home, hands stuffed in my pockets against the cold. 
When I get home there’s still nobody but the dogs, so I hug Brooklyn close to my chest and settle back into my novel, flipping the pages above his head, lost in somebody else’s day dream now.  8:30pm, 2 and a half hours to my shift, I walk Brook one last time then head over to the Tavern again. 
I’m expecting a crowd at the Tavern, it’s Saturday night, so I’m surprised when I find the parking lot to be empty.  It’s a good thing for me though, I don’t like crowds.  For a minute I think maybe nobody’s there, but then I see Barry at the bar, and Amanda bartending, she’s my favorite.  They greet me warmly as they always do, and for the first time all day I start to smile too.  That’s the thing about the Tavern, you can’t help but feel good there, at least, I can’t.  Barry starts to talk about last night again and Amanda plays me at pool.  She beats me twice but I don’t mind cause she’s so happy about it and I just like to play really.  By 10:41pm, we’re smoking a cigarette and I need to start heading to work.  19 minutes to my shift.  Amanda runs to the cashier and returns with a Tupperware of potato soup.
“Here,” she says.  “there’s cheddar and bacon and stuff in it.”  Everyone in the Tavern has been saving my ass feeding me and Brooklyn since I ran out of food last week.  I don’t know how to thank her enough, or  tell her what I really feel, about how the Tavern is the first place to feel like home in so long, and how it’s the best part of my day.  How I wish I could give the world to everyone there, but I’m just a poor kid and really, they kinda give the world to me.  How I don’t understand why they’re so kind to me, and how much it means, especially right now.  But she doesn’t know the full story of how and why I’m here, nobody here does, so I can’t explain to her how much it means.  All I can say is “Thank you, thank you so much.” Then run to my car and drive back down the hill from where I came, one right turn on Fourth Street, straight on to The Brown Bag.
Lettuce, tomato, onion, four pickles. Repeat.

On Sailing Ships

The halyards on the flag pole outside the Tavern sound like a ship’s mast when I close my eyes, smoking a cigarette.  I remember when I used to do that every winter as a little girl.  The sailing season would seem so far away in December, I’d have to close my eyes every time I saw a flag pole just to feel like I was in the yards again.  Sometimes I’d get fancy, and pretend the taxi cabs tires on the pavement, flying down Lexington Avenue, were waves against a hull.  People’s shouts became gulls cries, foots steps around me were luffing sails.  But there always had to be the halyards first, because nothing else in the world can match that sound.  My father told me once, it sounds like loneliness, but I think it sounds like home.
Or at least I did back then. 
Before I knew what a home was, only that I’d never had one, and I put all my faith in sailing ships to take me to where I belonged.  I didn’t see how they possibly couldn’t back then.  Sailing was everything.     I drew doodles of my father’s boat, The Sparrow, during all my classes at school.  I would practice splicing rope when I couldn’t sleep at night, which was often, and would braid my hair with green and red bands for port and starboard.  I wrote songs and poems about the sea in my veins and watched both Wind and Master and Commander religiously.  Looking back now, I realize that it wasn’t a mere obsession or compulsion, but a desperate necessity.   I had to make everything about sailing because I was wrong, it wasn’t everything, it was the only thing I had.  Instead of seeing the cramped dark apartment around me and a disheveled little kid with bruises on her skin, I saw myself with the wind in my hair hurtling farther and farther away from shore, my Dad’s brave little sailor girl.   The dreams pushed me onward, every day and every night, until the season would begin again.
It’s amazing how life changes.  I got a job in the yards when I was 17 and did really good working myself toward SUNY Maritime Academy until I got raped for the first time on Columbus day in 2008 by some asshole from my last high school.  It was the same story you always hear.  We had a bit to drink, I thought he was my friend.  And nothing could fix me afterwards, not even sailing, so I had to move to Connecticut and leave it all behind.  After everything I had been through, that really broke me.  The last time I sailed my Sparrow was about two weeks after that.  My Father made a careless call and we almost lost her in a nor’easter.  He gave me full ownership that night but she’s been sitting in a boatyard ever since.  
I swore I’d never do that when I was a kid.
I swore I’d never, ever, forget The Sparrow, that I’d kick anybody’s ass who tried to stop me from sailing her, that I would starve and be homeless if that’s what it took to keep her afloat.  I got to be starved and homeless plenty after that fall, but I never got to do it for The Sparrow.  It was not romantic or for a cause, it was just the cards life dealt me, and I think that’s what I didn’t understand when I was a kid.  Though I had been homeless on and off throughout my teenage years, I thought when grown-ups were homeless they must be doing it for something, because once you turned 18 and your parents or child services couldn’t tell you what to do anymore, you were free.  Or maybe I just couldn’t accept that I was already a grown up, and what I was living through was just practice for what was to come.
I didn’t have to choose that life.  There was a point when a family took me in, and I had a real home and loving parents.  For the first time in my life, I even got my own room, with my own bed, and a door I was allowed to close whenever I wanted.  I could have stayed.  I could have gone to Norwalk Community College and made friends and left the rest behind.  I could have even continued sailing The Sparrow, maybe.  But I never thought about that.  Though I no longer had to dream away living in hell, there was a pain in my heart from everything that happened to me that even the hope for next sailing season couldn’t take away.  I couldn’t see that I finally had everything I needed, all I felt was pain, so I did the one thing all that bouncing around with child services taught me to do, I ran away.
I thought I’d come back to The Sparrow.  That’s how I reasoned that it would be okay.  But then again, I also thought I could just come home whenever I wanted to.  I didn’t realize you could get stuck places back then, or that life would move on without me.  I was a cocky 19 year old who thought I’d lived so much that nothing could possibly hurt me anymore, I’d already lived through it all anyway.  I stepped back out onto the road, past the magical 18th birthday, without the slightest thought that I could possibly fail.  But then again, I never thought I could leave my Sparrow, too.  
I started out good.  For the first 6 months I was in New York City working for Grassroots Campaigns raising money for the ASPCA, that’s how I got into activism.  I met Joe Wilson there and left with him for San Diego in August of 2010.  I was 20 years old.  When we first got out there I got in good with a captain at a new sailing school and he let me race with them once a week.  I was ecstatic, my dream had come true.  I was finally a racer, learning the skills I needed to fix The Sparrow and take her around the world.  But then Joe went crazy, ranting about aliens and the end of the world, and we had to break up, and the pain came back even worse than before, because this time I was all alone on what felt like the other side of the world.  I had a great job and great friends but I threw it all away one day.  I ran away again and I haven’t raced since.  
The years following that are a strange delirium of the road.  I bounce around a lot and I drink too much.  I tried killing myself for awhile, but they just put me in a hospital, and gave me a lot of drugs, and told me I’m not allowed to do that anymore.  So I kept on moving, never staying in one town for long.  They didn’t say Im not allowed to do that.  I’ve collected a repertoire of memories that make great stories in the bar: Running from Federalis in Mexico, Breaking into abandoned buildings in a ghost town, playing guitar on the streets of cities all across this country.  I tell them like a novel, a tale of adventure.  I am the narrator, not the main character.  I am a story, not a girl.  Though Im not sure why I tell them at all.
But I never tell them about sailing.  I don’t remember how.  I told myself I know nothing of leeward and windward long ago.  I call line rope, and cleats horns, and I never make the mistake of confusing right with starboard in casual conversation anymore.  I am not a sailor, that is for TV.  And my copies of Wind and Master and Commander collect dust in the bottom of my unpacked moving boxes where they belong. 

People ask me where I’m from and I’m not sure what to say anymore.  Sometimes I tell them the road, or just shrug and say “a lot of places.”  Sometimes I tell them Queens, cause that’s the simplest answer, but I barely lived there for a year.  Most of the time I try not to think about my life, but it’s hard because I’m all alone now and I’ve lost almost everything I used to own, and there is no hope for next season to dream it all away.  But I can stand outside the Tavern in this new town I’ve found myself and secretly remember.  I can still close my eyes for a moment, and that flag pole becomes Sparrow’s mast, the fallen leaves my luffing sails, the click clack of the pool table inside is a burst of spray across the bow, and I’m just a girl who believes in sailing ships again.

NY 6557 CE

Friday, November 2, 2012

On Pool, Kennedy's Tavern and Halloween

I lean over the green in my medieval corset, plastic sword tapping against the rail, my feathered hat drooping just low enough on my forehead that I can still take my aim.  Johnny is cheering me on over the mouth of a Bud set before his lips.  I take a deep breath, clack-clack, whir, plunk.  The que gracefully rolls across the green while the two disappears in the corner pocket.  I straighten up, then strut around the table with one hand tracing the rail, my new sued pirate heels I got at Goodwill today clicking slowly on the bar room floor, a smirk on my face.  I line up my next shot, then sink the five.  On my third shot I miss.
“Atta-girl.” Says somebody in the crowd.  I politely smile at the people watching the game, then take a swig of my Yuengling before stepping outside for a cigarette.  As I pass the table on my way out Boomer, the bartender, is chalking his stick.  I know I’ve pretty much already lost, but I don’t mind.  I just love to play.
“So why’re you so good?”  Asks Barry, joining me for a smoke.  At least I think his name is Barry, it could be Hogan or John or Mike for all I know.  It’s only my second day around and I’m still getting names right.
“Boomer’s kicking my ass.” I reply quickly.  He raises an eyebrow at me.
“The boys say you can shoot.”  He says.  I shrug and take another drag off my cigarette.
“My momma’s an alcoholic.  She thought it would be okay to drink around me and my sister when we were kids, long as it was in a pool hall.   That way we’d be learning something at least.”  I pause and stare down my cigarette.  I’ve made a point to not talk about my past since I came to town.  It’s been a few weeks since anybody’s been able to pin me down with a question.  “I don’t know, it got something productive done at least, I love to shoot.”
“So you were one of those, grew up in the bar.” He says smiling, looking off across the parking lot.  And the way he says it, I smile too.  It’s not so much a statement of fact or worse, pity, but more like he just said welcome home.  I start to relax and lean against the glass.    
“I like it here.”  I say, slurring a little bit, getting lost in my thoughts, the alcohol and memories he just brought up making me suddenly sentimental.
“We like you.”  He says.
“I don’t stick around anywhere for long.” I say, “But I’m glad I finally found you guys.”
“Well, stick around here for a bit, will ya?”  He asks genuinely.  I look at him and smile, the drunken pirate queen.
“Sure.” Is all I say, then I look back at the game through the window behind us.  Boomer is cleaning up the table.  He only has one ball left before he can sink the 8.  He glances at me then nods.  I crush my cigarette out, I’m up.
After two more turns I’ve lost.  Everyone is sympathetic.  “Aw what happened hunny?” Says Joan. “Boomer beat you again?  Don’t let him do that.”  
I laugh good naturedly, “Hell it’s ok, I’ll get better.”  Somebody raises their glass to toast to that and I return the gesture, emptying a quarter of my beer in one gulp.  It’s an older crowd in Kennedy’s Tavern, most of the folk are 40+, a handful of early 30 year olds.  I’m definitely the kid in the bunch.  But I like it that way.  I don’t connect with people my age to good anyway.  They all have inside jokes and make media references that I don’t understand.  I get awkward and weird and shy around other 20 some odd year olds.  They make me insecure.  But I like older folk.  They don’t care about saying the right thing and who said what last week.  Older folk got good wisdom, and I think they respect me, even though the Tavern crew thought I was 12 when I walked in the night before in my raccoon beanie with ears.
“Can we help you?” the bartended who I now know as Boomer had said to me rather gruffly over crossed arms.
“Yeah. “ I said trying to act tough.  “A beer.”  He studied my ID for awhile then started to joke with the patrons about it.  I gathered that they were all regulars.
“Holy shit she is 22!” Somebody exclaimed from the other side of the bar.
“I’ll be damned.”
“Hell Boomer, give the girl a beer!”
I immediately like them.
Now here I am, it’s Halloween night and the party’s pretty much broken up.  It’s just me and the regulars from the night before now, sitting almost in the same seats too.  I’m starting to wonder if they do this every night.  They’re laughing and talking about everyone who was here: the DJ that kept calling me and Joan Pirate Queen and Goddess, the rowdy couple on the dance floor.  I’ve got a big plate of food in front of me and am nursing my last beer of the night.
“You told me you live on slim jims and noodles last night, you remember that?” Asks Barry.
“Yeah.” I say with a mouthful of bread. “Cause I do.”
“You can’t be doing that.”  He says.  I sigh.  Everyone who gets to know me is always on my case about my living habits: My old clothes, my shitty diet, my aversion to sleep and all things calm and normal.  Basically, the symptoms of growing up as a runaway.
“Yeah, I know.”  I say exasperated.  “But don’t worry I’m making good use of your munchies right now.”
He smiles, “Yeah, I can see that.”
The night then winds to an end.  Everyone claps me on the shoulder on my way out.  “Welcome to the bunch.”  says Hogan, or was his name Mike?, “You’re a good new addition.”  Then I feel my cheeks warm with emotion again.  It’s the first place I’ve found since I moved here where I really feel like I belong.  I slowly, carefully, made my way home, two left turns and up the hill.  I let the dogs in my room and didn’t even care about the fleas.  They both laid their heads on my chest, happily grunting and sighing before falling asleep.  Then, for the first time in weeks, I fell asleep before dawn, too.
There are two things (and only two things) that have remained true no matter where I end up, no matter how dark or wonderful that place has been, no matter what side of the country or hidden in what ghetto: there has always been first, swing sets, the story for which I will save for another chapter, and second, there is always a pool table.  
And I thank my lucky stars for that, at least.