Tag Archives: poets

“There Is a Girl in New York City Who Calls Herself: ‘The Human Trampoline’.”

She was sitting on the edge of her barstool, with her bright red hair cascading over a tea-light candle, on the bar:  Dangerous.  

How many poets, I wondered, had lost their minds to a red-haired woman before?

Never a barfly — always a butterfly — she knew how to balance her glorious womanly behind on the edge of the shiny, brown leather-bound seat.  No way she’d fall off — from her dignity!  Her back had learned the perfect arching, the angles of which made it irresistible to the gaze.  Or to the camera.

It’s a fascinating skill that came with the habit of being looked at.  I knew that:  Beauty and sex were prone to that habit the most.  

Perhaps, most civilians couldn’t even pinpoint the hair-thin boundary between the real girl and the red-haired fantasy.  Most civilians just found themselves dumbfounded, with her.

But I knew:  I knew the game.  I used to play it all the time myself, before I got way too tired to keep up with the nuances.  Beauty was insatiable:  It demanded constant maintenance.  And for a while, I began relying mostly on sex.

But then, I got tired of that too, and I settled for truth.  Truth — all the time.  

Besides, sex was always much easier, for a woman.  And in my bedroom, I would keep all the lights blazing:

Fuck it:  Truth — all the time!

And if you don’t like it — LEAVE!

We had entered the bar together, that night.  Earlier, she had taken me all over the City:  Her New York.  She hailed all the cabs herself with the flip of that magnificent red-haired cascade.  And the green vintage coat off the rack of Marilyn Monroe or Betty Davis was flung unbuttoned, at all times.

“Boo.  Put yo’ hat on!  It’s fuckin’ freezing, out here!” I scolded her, always a few steps behind.

I was entering my own age of self-awareness:  and my most self-aware self, as I discovered, would be maternal.  And true. 

True — all the time.   

But she would just clap her fluffy cashmere mittens in response, and redistribute her lipgloss by smacking her lips.  The hair would be flipped again; and as soon as she baited some unknowing cabbie and we’d slide inside, onto the shiny, black-leather bound seats — the mane would be tamed into a low bun:  Show over, buddy!  

Her New York was very different from mine.  She lived on the island, I — right over the bridge.  She cabbed her way all over the place.  I braved the subways, studying rats playing house in the garbage on its tracks.  And when it would get unbearable, I’d come up for some air, in Harlem, and unbutton my jacket:  Ay, mami!

She made her living by mixology behind the bar, similar to the one we were now flocking:  with her low-cut blouses and perfect lighting hitting the hemispheres of her breasts.  Businessmen, cheating spouses conferencing in New York and horny boys from NYU would claim to be her regulars alike; and they would study their fantasy, while playing with the labels of their beer bottles and the hot wax of tea-lights on the bar.  From behind the rims of their rock glasses, they would gather their courage to start up a conversation.  And their drool would backwash onto the ice inside — if ever she paid any attention to them.

She didn’t have to, though.  That’s the thing about bartenders:  They aren’t at the mercy of our egos, for their income.  It was all up to her:  When to lean in, while arching her back.  When to cascade the hair, when to pull it back into a bun.  And when to tell them — TO LEAVE!

While I settled for bargains, she knew the importance of well-made things.  But for the first time in my most self-aware self, I was willing to learn.  I was open — to changing my mind. 

It was about dignity, I was beginning to suspect, despite my artistic premonition about some artsy suffering in deprivation.

“It’s crucial, for an artist, to be proud,” she said earlier.

Street lights were about to take over from the sun, as she strutted in her high-heeled boots through the shadows of concrete high-rises in Chelsea and red brick oldies in the Village.  I followed her, in jeans and flats, with the rest of my life packed inside a mighty Mary Poppins’ shoulder bag.

We were both competent, in our own way.  But she could survive on her credit card alone (although a girl like that never paid for her own drinks).  And I was spending my youth in a perpetual state of readiness for a take-off.

Our bartender that night would be a model by day.  Or an actor.  (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  To me, he was bitchy right off the bat.  With my girl — he was debonair.  We hadn’t been at the bar for half an hour, yet he had refilled my girl’s glass at least three times.  The petals of her lipgloss had circumvented the thin rim entirely by then, but the only sign of her tipsiness was in the pout of her lower lip.

Despite being seasoned by New York already, he could not have foreseen his purpose that night:  He was supposed to comp our drinks.

Which he did — in exchange for her number written on a bev nap and held in place by a tea-light candle.  He would even hail us a cab.

Inside, on a shiny, black leather-bound seat, she shook off the snowflakes from her red hair and smacked her lips.

“That number is fake, right?” I asked.

“No,” she answered.  “I would never do that, to a man.”

She gave the cabbie her intersection.  We were silent.

“But he’ll have one hell of a time — chatting up my shrink at Bellevue,” she smacked her lips again and pulled her hair into a low bun.

Show over, buddy!  

Back to truth.

He Ain’t Heavy: He’s My Bro!

“How’s the writing?” he asked me, yesterday, as a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, he was so matter of fact about it, I didn’t think twice that, like to most of my friends, to him, my writing — was just a matter of fact.

As a matter of fact, I am not flocked by my comrades — other writers — all suspended in loaded pauses in between pontificating on the history of the novel or the future of the industry.  We don’t sit around a round table (yes, it must be round) in the middle of the night, playing with nostalgic shticks, like card games, cigars or tea cups with saucers — because we are just so fucking eccentric.

We don’t make fun of humanity while others zealously nod or slap their thighs in a gesture of agreeing laughter; but then, take ourself so very brutally seriously. (Seriously?!).  Many of us have gone through love affairs; several — quite tumultuous.  But we don’t arrive to coffee shops favored by Europeans while accompanied by mysterious lovers (in scarves or berets) that have inspired a poem or two — a sketch or a lovely line-up of guitar chords — making the rest of us want a piece of that creature.  We don’t share lovers, passing them around like a well-rolled joint.  And:  we don’t dis the exes.

My people and I are a lot more matter of fact, in life.  Sure, some of us are stranger than others, worthy to be gossiped about.  And yes, we tend to be adventurous, always up for playing, always on the lookout for a good story.  Many travel, quite often treating LA-LA as a rest stop, even though we all live around here.  Quite a few are in the midst of an art project that will change their lives upon fruition.  But we don’t spend our daily lives in some sort of artistic isolation or exhibitionist suffering; slamming down phones and doors if ever we are interrupted.  We don’t keep lists of our losses and griefs against humanity — or against our mothers — posted up on the wall, framed.

My people and I:  We live, as a matter of fact.

And especially, when it comes to my brothers:  They are the simpler of my clan.  Rarely do I double-guess their intentions.  Never do I wonder about their moods and the words with which they choose to communicate them.  Never do I decipher their facial ticks, eventually finding myself in despair, impatience, followed by frustrated judgment.  And it’s always quite clear with them that even though they don’t obsessively seek my company; when in my company, nothing seems to thrill them more.  (Now, I’ve heard about those moody mothafuckers that torture my girlfriends with their mixed signals and facial ticks in dire need of deciphering.  But no such mothafucker — is a brother of mine!)

So, when my baby-brother asked me about writing yesterday, I gave him an answer specific enough to be respectful of him and of the time that had lapsed since last we saw each other; and respectful enough to not sound flippant about my work.  (Because my work — I take seriously, not my self.  Seriously.)  But then, a discussion of our lives, happening as a matter of fact, continued, letting my work be — just a matter of fact.

Later, however, I found myself picking apart the category of men that become my brothers.  I am normally quite hard on their gender, especially toward the ones that end up as my lovers.  But with my brothers, I never feel the urge to break their balls or to demand explanations; constantly digging for more honesty (but not realizing that no love can handle that much truth).  As a matter of fact, everything is quite clear with my brothers and I, and I am never tempted to ask for more clarity.  So: I let their mysteries be.

This one — a beautiful child — used to be a colleague of mine.  Both of us had worked at a joint that was meant to pay for our dreams while costing them the least amount of compromise.  And I would be full of shit if I claimed I was never titillated by his loveliness, measuring it against my body in his tall embraces or against my chest as I would rub his head full of gorgeous Mediterranean hair.  I would watch him with others — with other women — and notice the goodness of him.  He was respected, always:  the type of a man worthy of man crushes from his brothers and dreamy sighs from every girl in the room.  His charm would come easily.  Never strained, it seemed to cost him nothing. And it’s because that charm came from his goodness — it never reeked of manipulation or his desperate need to be liked.

Here, as a matter of fact, I would be lying if I didn’t think at one point or another about all of my brothers as potential lovers.  But somewhere along the way of building the history of intimacy, something would tilt the scale:  and we would make a choice to leave our love untamed by so much honesty — it wouldn’t survive the truth.

That something — would take a bit effort to define yesterday, after my rendezvous with my baby-brother expired and we parted, as a matter of fact, never fishing for assurances that we would see each other again soon (because we would).  And it would all come down to:  Goodness.

Even if not with me, my brothers — are committed to their goodness.  Because of their commitment, that goodness happens with ease — as a matter of fact — and it earns them good lives and worthy loves.  It earns them — my love, as a matter of fact.

“While You’re Gettin’ Your Cry On — I’m Gettin’ My Fly On.”

A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski.  Who said that mornings had to be unkind?

These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me.  Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.

They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom.  (Those moments — are the best, in life:  Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.)  And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:

“This one’s on the house…”  

(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine.  That’s a handful already.  Don’t hand me any more.)

Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety.  But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there.  So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity:  The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.

Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!):  Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash.  The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.

Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman:  because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type.  But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes.  Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon.  Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:

“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”

And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way:  so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”?  Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability?  Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before?  And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck:  Would it take them a month?  a year?  a trip to Brazil?  another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?

And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline:  The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth.  Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant.  And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:

“Oh really?…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…”

They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”.  So many!  So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.  Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses.  Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children.  But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:

“Saw you in The Paris Review…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…” 

And the big dogs would lie:  Yeah, we should.  But they never would.

No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York.  Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.

I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now.  They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names.  The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century:  The hilarious Diaz.  The empathetic Smith.  The diplomatically graceful Lahiri.  They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused:  To the rest of us.

And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.

Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?

And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?