Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Chapter One

I smoked a hookah with you
While we watched the library burn down
The blaze illuminated your face
As every word burnt into space
Then with two tongs of tusk
I plucked an ember from our tin and threw it in
‘Specting to add aroma to the cackling crackle of the din
When the pigs came along and locked me up
For starting the whole thing!
In a day and a half I was back out on the streets
Did I cop a plea for my release
When I took credit for the feats?

The first few are Humpbacks and my hunch is there must not be a woman one left lingering these sub arctic streams this late into August judging by the way the calls all moan off in one direction, no responses returned. This generation’s healthiest have long since gone, snagged up by the fertile sows early on to loll merrily down to warmer waters together. I listen and wait, hoping I’m wrong, but the calls keep coming bleating from the north, pleading towards the south, and then an anxious anticipatory silence

is followed by just more bleating from the south as they pass imploring man, imploring in a tilted swim, entire body cocked in plead, along their melancholic migration empty handed south.
The tour guide lectures over the p.a. system on how much blubber these things build up during their summer feeding frenzy before their mating season fast, but I miss the specific info wondering instead what the rate at which they burn it off is when they break from eating for those few seconds in song. It must be just as staggering. It’s freezing below this hull and that makes things burn faster. I know because the captain had us feel the water before the journey began in case we thought about joining the whales in solitary quest and, between a blink, a few pounds of my body exited through the tip of my frozen finger attached to my previously goldened flesh now awed into suspended animation like the innards of these whales when they open their mouths to sing and not eat and the frigid waters come cascading in, stinging as deep as the song is long. Cold.
I’m off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the Pioneer IV which happens to be the same whale watching yacht I was on last summer. The crowd is still made up of the same retirees and young families who snuck us approving winks last trip and the concession booth still has yet to get a proper liquor license so beer or cookies are my only options to enhance this whale watching excursion and I choose both. I need something extra to fill the gap this time around because there is one difference making neither beer nor cookies cut it alone. I need them both to plug the hole. Beer and cookies and a cup for dipping. It has been argued that if I were to dissect the diction of referring to a person as a hole that needs to be plugged I could find my remedy therein, but I don’t believe that remedy is for me to prove so it should not surprise you that I’m here alone this summer.
Last year I shared a hotel room with Jennifer after the first trip, but being in New England, Blue Laws prevented us from buying booze after a certain hour and in a panic we grabbed whatever we could find in the convenience mart. So speaking of cookies, there were cookies then too. Cookies, Yoo-Hoo, and Fiddle-Faddle. Without booze we were out of sorts and as would be expected from the combination, I did not get laid that night and it did not go unfought about either. We fought about who wasn’t turning who on when it was really Fiddle-Faddle to blame. I probably had a piece stuck in my teeth through the whole argument.
“Let’s just watch a blockbuster, cuddle, and avoid words for the rest of the night. They’re getting us nowhere,” we tried. As soon as it was rolling I was out like a light. She pretended like she was transfixed on the blockbuster and wired.
So to say Jen is a distant memory now is only true in the sense that she is both distant and a memory, but the two are not true together nor have they ever been. I keep her close. Either way, she is not here and I have no idea where she is. I’m assuming she’s in the next town over with some choche she met at her bar she’s pretending to trot this summer while she traces over our old dates with dishonest trumps because that’s the way this life rolls -- not quite circles, broken key chains (with secret extras in your back pocket) -- walking arm in arm with the choche. I can hear it now.
“Choche, the vacationers up here must be CEOs in the big leagues yet they only allow mom and pop shops on their holiday drag. They don’t even believe in their own products…and yet these souvenirs they do believe in are just as shoddily tawwwdry.”
She’s getting a kick out of saying it because she thinks she stole it from me. It was one of the little one liners I whipped up in lieu of real conversation on one of our strolls last summer and since it came from me she thinks I own the intellectual property rights even though it only came from me because I was feeling awkward that conversation at the moment wasn’t as fluid as I thought it could be; people and their credits – yeah, but none of this is either here or there. I can’t let myself get dragged into it. I’m alone this summer and that’s what’s important, yet though I don’t have the lagging baggage of an uninterested girlfriend I’m to tote around always feeling the pressure of entertaining making weak one liners come out even when ancient fins come crashing down all around us I still can’t say this trip is any better than the last. I’m free from burden now, that’s true, but any man alone on vacation raises potential pervert red flags which puts me in a state of mild unease. As I walk by families my periphery inverts now winkless mothers pulling their children in tight into an all too embarrassing image on my retina. What am I to do, invite a dude? The flags these folk would still ahoist, just ones of a different color, that is: the multicolor. No there is no winning, only changing. It’s not enough discomfort to kill my joy of watching the whales though or to think twice about pushing one of these protected brats aside if my view is interrupted {more on change: the ruder I am in my elbowing to see the whales, the less like a pervert I appear, just a dick – something different}, but it is enough to keep my joy ratio rationed equally from year to year. Yes the circumstances change but their individual merits, for better or for worse, never cease to balance out.

I’m amazed at what still lives out here in the North Atlantic. White-sided dolphins, tiny Pilot whales, and twenty foot Minkes form the confetti around a scene where giant Finbacks, the occasional Right whale, and Humpbacks garner ovations so severe I fear the whole venture capsizing as us tourists race from stern to bow and back again.
“School of Blue Fin Tuna starboard!”
“Blowholes spotted portside means one’s gonna surface soon!”
Try to paint a foul picture in your mind of the fanny-packed tourist couple already wearing their matching “Portsmouth Olde Fashioned Taffy Shoppe” shirts snapping photos of things they never actually witnessed because they were too busy framing the shot and you are sorely misinformed, my friend. There is nothing like seeing a whale in the wild {why does “wild” feel like such an onland term?}. No distasteful mis-en-scene could cramp this big sea big top. Right now we’re above an underwater mountain range so bountiful with cornucopia that by summer’s end the average Humpback will have added fifteen tons of blubber to its already colossal mass from microscopic krill and plankton alone (I lied, I always listen). There’s a kingdom beneath we only catch glimpses of when they surface for a spout, another spout, one final spout, and the climactic back flop if we’re lucky between their fifteen minute long dives down to the depths again to dine.

I didn’t actually see the last few whales, but I’m sure they were Humpbacks because I heard their song. No other whales have such a recognizable song, or a song at all from what I understand. And like I said my hunch was that these ones were all men because I can’t imagine a woman wailing unrestricted such dismal misery, but don’t think I know nothing, it’s just an unenlightened hunch. And I should mention as well that you can’t hear their songs from the boat per se since they’re only audible underwater, but between this whaling excursion and the abusive play of a flexi disc I stole from an old National Geographic out of the public library when I was a little kid of Humpback whales singing that’s etched its plasticine groove into my subconscious, I synthesized this dream. The image in my head was the first of the day and it was of nothing more than my turquoise blue ceiling. The peeling flakes of paint exposing the plaster beneath could easily be whitecaps. The dangling electric wires for lights I never bothered to put in could be the streams from their blowholes. The sound in my head was also the first of the day and it sounded like Humpback whales and hence, I goo-goo and gaga-ed at my make believe marine mammal mobile. Anyhow, it had to be anything other than my pathetic ceiling.

Drifting in and out, up and down with the wake, the next few are also Humpbacks but only given life through zoonomorphized dumptrucks that, if I recant this story enough, will make the full leap to actual anthropomorphized dumptrucks through the evolution of exaggeration. That is to say, I’m conscious enough now to realize that these aren’t really Humpback whales and I am not on that whaling vessel this morning, nor was I ever on that whale watching vessel alone, but my dreams last night must have been bright and hopeful enough to keep this dream partially afloat while I’m partially awake. Now they are, yes we’re agreeing that they are in fact Humpback whales (for the sake of joy) bounding down Court Street, changing sides of the street from block to block. Big white whales who, no longer hunted, now flaunt tattoos more flagrant than their former foes. I witness words like Mastrogiovanni, Gencarelli, and Lanzo in script, which have replaced the harpoonist’s inked bicep of anchors and mermaids come bumbling by bruising this side then that. Wayside look! The blowholes from where the old air is spewn on both the faux and factual whales are in the same place. A few men cling to the rear of the fake beast like remora to a shark and though this is not a shark, we’re calling it a Humpback, it is in fact still an aquatic poem so the analogy works, and you don’t mind my inaccuracies nor know any better if we remain in meter. This is practically a dream and hence all things are allowed. The baleen however serves only as a vent to cool off the engine within. It sifts only gnats and mosquitoes which though similar in mass to the krill, these ones will go uneaten. The extra fifteen tons from this form are to enter through the rear and as I think about how the gastronomic cycle has already begun to reverse this morning, sealed lips in front and a consumptive bung in back, the poem dissipates and I’m suddenly not digging the way this day has begun after all and, though I struggle, the screeches from the dumptrucks outside no longer sound like astral calls from the frozen abyss, they sound like brakes almost intentionally unoiled to aggravate.

It’s usually the eighth dumptruck to cantanker beneath my window by eight each morning that finally gets me up and out. These ones are no longer anything like Humpbacks and like all vivid dreams, I have no idea where the one I just retold has gone. Disappeared along with the pleasant mood it began me in. Now, “day daily” as the Dutch live and say, a constant contemplation of rolling downstairs and asking the Italians of Court Street already holding court in lawn chairs outside the Van Westerdonk Mother Cabrini Social Club once and for all how the cleanest neighborhood in Brooklyn could possibly need so many dumptrucks rears, but alas we already all know the well rehearsed answer supplied:
“How else do you think this neighborhood could keep so clean?”
But I am curious. Are there or are there not only a limited number of things one can dump inside dumptrucks or am I that naïve?
The easier way out is to lump these inexplicable entrepreneurs in with the rest of us collective hacks expending more futile energy operating around the paradigm, devoting wind to devising plans rather than plugging in proofs, winding up with less in the long run than if we just paid our taxes and settled in.
I wonder who inspired them with the argument that “the mafia does not exist.” A surrealist, Leninist, or Post-Structuralist? I may be projecting.
Instead I lay aside all thoughts of whatever whalishness just took place beneath my window, find whatever pants are closest, and pass through the kitchen en route to the bathroom where I’m caught by my flat mate and my bladder bloats. And if truth be told, maybe I don’t walk a perfectly straight line to the kitchen before I’m caught. Maybe for a second I puff my cheeks out to both counter balance the agony building in my bladder and imitate the whales by performing a quite elegant shuffle from side to side of the hallway in case my song has in fact not gone unheard and she is watching me through the few chalky sun beams that do penetrate this far down. Maybe my song has piqued her interest, but now she needs to see how I dance it. That is to say, I’m also counter-balancing the impending weight of the day.

“I made a pot of coffee. Want some coffee? It’s good. I learned how to do it right in Brazil. I’m telling you, no one makes it as good as me. The daughter of the mayor of Porto Alegre taught me right if you know what I mean.”
I had no idea what he meant.
“Have some, c’mon go ahead.”
“No thanks, I’m actually just about to run out and grab a cup off the street.”
“Why would you want to do that when I’ve already brewed a fresh pot right here?”
As I rub my face, purposefully not making eye contact as to send the unsubtle sign that I’m not yet ready to get into it, I speak through my hands.
“It’s just a ritual, man. I like stepping out of the house before I settle in to a work mode.”
“Well break the habit and chill out with me for a few minutes and have freshly brewed free coffee. Let’s talk. Breaking the ritual might burst open a new neurological canal.”
“But David, the thing is I don’t want to break my ritual, for it is not a habit, it’s a ritual. It’s stabilizing. You know I’d love to chat with you but who knows where this day’s gonna lead so I just like to start with a ritual. Begin at least with one thing I can expect every day. Can ye not respect a ritual?” as I curtsey like a harlequin, “I mean the consistency of this conversation virtually qualifies it as a ritual. I could argue for the benefit of your neurological canals as well, my friend.”
“Wait, the first point first: it has nothing to do with respect, I’m just trying to make it easier for you, but go ahead, go go make it difficult on yourself.”
“Listen. David,” more rubbing of the face to my unreceptive audience, “respect is a poor choice of words, true, but then again I’m liable to make many more inaccurate word choices without a coffee inside me first --”
“So then have a cup from the pot I made, find your words, and we’ll continue the debate.”
“My friend, it’s not about you, convenience, or costs – even an expensive cup is cheaper now before daily inflation sets in after noon and by the end of the day we’re paying more for one drink at a bar than our entire breakfast costs us now, not unlike how the decibels of the music we choose increases at I’m sure the same trajectory as our currency does. Quiet to loud, cheap to expensive. Francoise Hardy serenades the soul while the morning’s most expensive indulgences are still cheaper than midday’s standard fare eaten to the aggression of Jacques Dutronc. Does that satiate you convo need?” Tempted to bloat my cheeks and dance like a whale again, I made it out: “Blasphemy! Jesus! C’mon! Fuck it David, don’t draw me in yet. This isn’t fair. I’d prefer to not race already. Look, it’s never about either and or whatever, I just prefer to step out and take a breath.”
“You mean you like to waste.”
“Yesssss. Exactly, that’s what I like to do, waste, so am I free now to go and waste?”
“Hey, I’m not trying to start anything! Go, go get your weird inferior coffee if it suits you to irrationally spend money when you could just sit yourself down right here and have a decent conversation with a friend whose path unfortunately you only cross in the a.m. coffee hour. I’m not blaming you, my schedule’s as busy as yours, I’m just saying.”
“Dude, not to sound like a coffee person at this point, but I really would like a coffee before any more words ensue. A coffee and a piss first, please.”
“Go, go” he says as if I really were his captive to liberate or bind, “…where you going?”

I could say I’m going to the Fall Café, but he would criticize me for paying too much for weak coffee at an artiste joint that supports the gentrification of this old Italian neighborhood. I could counter that with the argument that I’m curious to see what Italians drink their coffee at Fall rather than an Italian place, but he wouldn’t get it (yet they do exist). I could tell him it’s my long term goal to get a lay in before noon and Fall is the only place nearby that might (I said might) facilitate such an interaction, but he would say without a coffee, shit, and shower in me I look like shit, I should sit down and have a coffee with him first then grab a tea at Fall as to appear like a sophisticate later. A solid argument, so I avoid it. Again, I’m avoiding getting into it so I don’t tell him this, but though he argues against gentrification, not only is he a gentrifier himself, he’s also a Jew the Italians are anything but kind to. A little gentrification would behoove him. This guy needs a camp on his side.
I could tell him instead I’m going to an Italian café, but he would either curse the Italians for their anti-Semitism or call me a patronizing contrarian quainting up the Olde World or most likely both. If I told him I was going to the Italian café to see what other gentrifiers like he and me are there pretending not to be he would call me a counter-contrarian uncomfortable in my role, all before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.
I rub my face again as I can already hear it:
“Before people started arriving here I was the only Jew in the neighborhood. They loved me ‘cause I was a novelty. Now they hate me because ‘my kind’ poses a threat to their lethargy. You’re Italian, motherfucker, and you currently reap some minimal benefits from your misfortune like the oh so privileged ability to lock your bike up outside overnight without it getting stolen like mine, but in due time they’ll realize the truth that you’re ‘my kind’, more gentrifier than Guinea. So yes, they leave me no choice but to subsume them or drive the influxing gentrifiers out, which we know can’t be done. Once the floodgates have been opened they just keep coming. Stubborn Italian fucks, so they get consumed then and I’ll see them in Bayside right before I subsume Bayside with my Jewish realty empire – I mine as well start only hiring Jews since they’ll call it a conspiracy either way. You know why I think they’re pissed at us? Seriously, you know why? I mean ‘us Jews’ – fuck, I am not their spokesman – well it’s because life was a hundred zillion times more when they were pagans and then this renegade Jewish sect comes along and wipes all the debauchery away, which makes them self loathing Jews like the rest of us …and for the record, kill me before I’m forced to move out to Bayside, alright? But seriously, more seriouslies, it’s just the middle zones people have problems with. Irritation pulses the pattern of pink noise, my friend. It embraces half the tones white noise does, skipping every other frequency. When I was the rare Jew gentrifier I was accepted and when I’m the mean Jew gentrifier I’ll be accepted too but this in-between stage breeds this Italian animosity that’s coming out as anti-Semitism when it’s really just a lull in the pink. Am I making sense or what? We pulse in pink. Repulse is pink…Ah, you’re a crock of shit. You’re not any paying attention. You need your to go cup. Go, go ahead. Don’t forget to make me look like a super Jew in your novel, thief.”
Aye, though I was being firm with my inability to get dragged in this early I did in fact agree with his main argument. I just couldn’t let him know. I even already plotted out a bit of my day according to it. I promised Rockwell yesterday I’d get a coffee with him at noon today, but by the time I’m done with this first cup it’ll be nine and that means I won’t need my second until three. Rather than cancel though, I’ve devised a way to get a free cup of coffee out of Rockwell. He’ll expect me at noon, right? When I don’t turn up by one he’ll be pissed. When I don’t turn up by two he’ll be confused. By the time I ring his bell at three he’ll be worried about my condition and as happy, if not happier, to see me then than he was at noon. I’m sure the coffee’ll be on him and in the long run he’ll thank me for forcing him to get work done rather than procrastinating with me. Hit it while it’s pink.
But yeah, my concern at this moment is simply in getting out so I tell David I’m just going to the deli, which is generally run by the ubiquitous and indistinguishable Greek-Italian-Jew-Mediterraneo (Lebanese) deli owner who employs the only Other every New Yorker agrees on, the Mexicans, placing me with some luck in the virtual clear from more David. There is nothing to get mad at about this deli. It is, has been, will be style.
“Which deli?”
“The one next to the Carroll Street F Train stop.”
“Well there’s two delis there, Smith Street Bagels or DiBiassi’s Delicatessen?”
“Smith Street Bagels, happy Hebe? Anyhow, a) I’m not going there for the bagels, just the coffee and b) bagel comes from beugel which means ‘stirrup’ in some Eastern European Jew tongue. The story goes that some Teutonic knight led a cavalry that rescued some Jewish community against someone or so forth so they baked him metaphorical loafs in the shape of stirrups in gratitude or something or I whatever, it’s just too early for all of this. We all own the bagel though, Gentile, Jew, and Heathen, that’s for sure. You can’t take that from me.”
Ignored with difficulty, “Why the deli and not one of these fucking café’s? They’re closer.”
“I dunno.”
“Yes you do know, you must know or you wouldn’t walk the further distance to the deli when you could just grab a coffee right outside our door. So I ask again, which deli and why?”
“Well I already told you which deli, you just mean why right?”
“Right, sorry, you’re distracting me from my coffee, now I’m losing track. OK, so why the deli and not the cafe?”
Bit the bait. Drawn in:
“Because the deli gets firemen, cops, EMS volunteers, and young families. These types of people are our legitimate others, are they not? They’re the insiders. I can watch them until my cup is dry and ponder when and where our paths diverged. We were all in second grade together. Also, the deli is at least a dollar cheaper than the cafes and cheap coffee has a higher caffeine quotient.”
David nods. Either I’ve won or he’s been beaten down to his only human coffee depleted state. So I pummel when the rare chance presents.
“Anyhow, we’re not talking about coffee now or ever, are we David?”
“No no, you’re right. There’s no way we’re talking about coffee, mine as well have been an EMS volunteer then.” Yes, he’s losing steam. A fortunate lull in the pink.
I lie, “A’ight, I’ll be back in a few, save some chat and we’ll sit for couple.”
David’s Jewishness, or my hang-up thereupon (which could also be his hang-up thereupon), exemplifies the racial paradoxes we saunter through in this city. We think in racial equations, but simply as a way to articulate our absurd, copious, and therefore fey numbers. Like if a Jew only left a dollar tip on two drinks we would think he’s a cheap Jew regardless of whether he just paid for my drink as well as his own. If a Jew left four dollars on two drinks we would think he’s an overcompensating cheap Jew and continue on with our conversation. In terms of David, I’m drawn back to two interchanges I encountered moments apart on the Lower East Side another early morning.
The Puerto Rican mom swings her child about, “Stupit! I should smack you! Come he-ah so that therefore I can smack you. Oh, why you so stupit, Victah!? No, no, you going straight to your room when we go home. Don’t go crying to Nana that Mommy’s been mean to you. I DON’T WANNA HEAR IT!”
Then the Orthodox Jewish dad explains to his son of the same age as Victor one block later, “See it’s one of those situations where the actual word you say doesn’t matter, Ari. ‘Do I mind if you borrow my crayon?’ ‘Sure, go ahead’ or ‘no, I don’t mind’ mean exactly the same thing. You can say ‘sure’ or you can say ‘no’ and mean the same thing. Understand, son?”
So when the tangible equation we’re working with is that Ari and Victor will be thrown into kindergarten together next year, we’re permitted to posit any of our own pseudo scientific pub theorems in the small talk between. We’re allowed to despise the Fukianese of Chinatown for moving the pattern of retards on magic mushrooms because we know they’re only passing through the pink. They’re coming from a civilization that once knew how to kill a man with a single touch of Dim Mak and in time their current mayhem will mutate into a community that swirls and spins themselves down Mott Street amongst others who slowly skip themselves backwards to the fishmonger. The sidewalks of Chinatown will look like streams with standing waves, rapids, falls, ponds within ponds, and black guys will lose their knack of dance and a scientist may proclaim “New Evidence! The Chinese Come Already Drunk” so what’s the difference if we find our own way of getting there?
Ooh and somehow I manage an exit to the street for my to go cup though my nerves now no longer need the coffee while my neurons demand it. My soul is already divided before nine. A block away I puff my cheeks out and hit a quick shuffle while no one’s looking, yes, to embrace the division.

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