From the series: Old, Embarrassing Shit that Lies Dormant on Writer’s Cafe That’s Gonna Get Lost if I Don’t Transplant it Somewhere. So here’s its new home.
I’ve been here a few days. I’ll be turning 46 on Tuesday. I have to be careful crawling in and out of bed because my knees are all scabbed up from going splat on the pavement my first day here. Seems I got way too drunk in a watering hole where the server, a nice enough fellow in a D.R.I. shirt and giant collection of unique odds and ends and just a few months younger than me – we hit it off well enough that he kept me more than saturated, partly on the house. Well, that goddamn hole of a bar has a million stickers on the walls but no windows so when i hit the street in the bright afternoon, stepping off the curb without testing my sobriety against sudden changes of elevation, I went smack. And now the knees are raw and sore and crusty. And stupidly, perhaps selfishly, I don’t remember that dude’s name.
The next day I was sitting, waiting for my order of burger and fries to be called. It was one of those chains all the locals seem to like so you gotta try it while you’re here. A man in his late fifties, maybe sixties, and a young girl sat on the bench beside me, waiting too. From the corner of my eye, I can see him looking down at me, then up to my face. He does this for a while, up and down and obviously. So I turn to glare at him, but by now he is looking forward. I imagine that my dress is not too awkward and I have showered and worn deodorant. I will later piece together than he was probably staring at my knees, as I was wearing shorts.
Oh well. This kinda shit happens I guess but probably shouldn’t for a guy turning 46 in a couple of days.
Today I went to Chinatown and ordered a tilapia stew from the steam counter at some little Filipino joint. The lady behind the counter could tell I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, which I wasn’t trying to hide anyway, so she explained everything courteously.
“Fish. Pork. Chicken. Beef. Soup. Banana,” she showed me. I selected the fish. “Is big so I charge you as two entrees.” The difference was just a couple of bucks so I agreed. She placed the whole fish, head and tail complete, in an oblong styrofoam coffin carefully, so it wouldn’t fall apart. It had started to decompose during the transfer, but she was swift with the big spoon in keeping it intact.
I grabbed a seat and took a picture to show folks later of the aquatic monstrosity soaking in its bloody mary stew and blanket of tomatoes and onions. A caucasian man shook his head disgustedly. Is he upset at the narcissism of this guy who can’t restrain himself from sharing something so trivial as this meal with the world? Well, sorry fella. That’s what I’ve become. But I won’t be sharing a picture of these knees. Some things are better kept to ourselves.
The entree, probably because of the head, looked worrisome to my digestion but it tasted good. So did the plantains.
After the food, I found a Tiki bar a few blocks away. These places are generally kinda cool and funky so I went in and ordered a drink. It was happy hour so I figure they’d knock something off the price. They didn’t. It was $9 for a cocktail 90% ice with less bite than a lager.
So I asked the girl before leaving, “what’s your happy hour?”
“Mai Tai’s five bucks. Drafts are three.” I hadn’t ordered either.
I went back outside. That bar had been pretty dark inside too. Cool shit like shrunken heads and pirate skulls on the wall. But thankfully, the circumstances were different this time.
The bus to deliver us back to our herding is packed so I stand at the front. There’s a young guy next to me. We face each other as we ride. I can tell that he’s looking me up and down too. I don’t think it’s paranoia. I’m wearing a Ramones shirt with athletic shorts and running shoes that I could never have afforded twenty years ago. But nothing else cool, just the shirt. So I give this kid a better look in return. He’s adorned in what I assume is some prototypical hipster, alt-swag.
I imagine him thinking that this is what happens. You try to hold onto a bit of your youth through such declarations as this shirt, but your specialty running shoes, when combined, paint another picture. I imagine I’m not too old to have given up hope for retaining a bit of youthful sensibilities yet. But I’ve too much shit to worry about to be a caricature. So we part ways at the next stop with no acknowledgement. I have no malice toward his youth or judgement, whatever that may be.
A few hours later I’m laying in bed not feeling so good. I’ve been drinking a lot and eating like shit and walking miles and miles so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. But this feels more like a cold or the flu coming on. I lay in the bed and pull up the cover which is far less bulky than in most hotels, even these cheap ones. Then I yank it off – too warm. I repeat this several times, as well as the position on the bed. Maybe it needs to be warmer so i turn up the thermostat on the wall unit to 73. But a few minutes later I feel too warm so I turn it back down.
I go back to the bed. I’ve been laying for hours, not tired. I imagine how much this is like the old person in the nursing home, laying and laying away what remains of their life until the end. Is it just like this? I can still taste a bit of that “Piranha whatever” cocktail in my guts. I wish the taste would go away as well as the memory of its expense.
I think for a moment of the mother of a friend. I’ve known each since childhood. My friend has explained that her mother rarely moves from her luxury recliner and blanket these days, though she’s well able to.
My friend tells me her mother torments here with the guilt of never talking or going to see her.
I think about her mother lying in that recliner, oscillating between sitting and reclining, not unlike me now, lying left and right, knees bent then straight and pulling the covers on and off. Never finding comfort. The right temperature. The right position.
Or maybe she has found the right position, conveniently programmed into the La-Z Boy’s touch screen remote. Maybe she’s found the right temperature. And the right channel. Maybe her daughter is wrong.
My friend has explained that she feels the more attention she gives her mother, the less incentive it is for her to ever change. Like one of the many bums lying on the corners in this city – lying on corners that reek of piss- bums who just need another bottle given to them to make it through another day. There must be a pain to their living that I cannot understand. But I imagine too we are better to try to defeat that pain than nurture it.
I’m also well aware of the extent we can try to moralize our way out of simple truths. So I’ve not decided, and maybe shouldn’t, who’s the asshole between her and her mother.
I think I’ll take a shower again. I need to shave real bad cause I didn’t bring a razor and didn’t feel like looking up the rules on flying with a razor. I’m starting to look like one of those bums, though far less tanned and hopefully less sad.
I guess the razor thing probably would have been okay on the plane but I’m just lazy that way. And I wonder how dirty the ears will be when I finally get to hit ‘em with a Q-Tip. I try to wipe the insides with a washcloth, but it ain’t the same.
So I step in the shower and turn the handle all the way counter clockwise. The heat comes quick. I might have to back it off. Then back up. I hope this shitty feeling goes away soon.