Memphis, Part 1: Getting there and getting lit

I waited around an old, small airport, laying on the carpeted concrete floor next to a outlet where my phone was plugged in for about an hour, waiting for Sal’s flight to land.  She’d told me that I could go on to the AirBnB without her, but I thought it was silly for us both to spend the money for a ride. It wasn’t like either of us had anywhere to be at any specific time.  

I stared up at the white foam panels of the drop ceiling studying how the spectrum of beige concrete columns grew out of them and extended down to me.  The airport had the feeling of an school house built in the ’70s, but they’d added some upgrades here and there. Staggered between the rows of plastic chairs were electronics charging towers, fitted with standard electric plugs and USB plugs too.  

I filled up my water bottle at a large ceramic fountain, the water basin an oval carved into a long rectangular base.  It reminded me of the ones in black and white photos from the south in the past, where above one a sign hung reading ‘colored’ next another to another with no sign.  Here now there was only one, and to my surprise the water pressure was great. I was able to get the bottle filled completely without having to tilt it, directing the high arching stream into my container.

I laid back down and put headphones in, humming to myself in an empty room, just waiting, until airport staff began to show up at the gate.  They slowly rolled in wheelchairs and took seats, reminding me that time was passing. None of them sat beside one another. I noticed that among them, there was not a single young person working, and that they were all people of color.  I resumed stared at the ceiling, contemplating the next 48 hours.

 

A couple weeks before, Sal and I were sharing dinner, talking about women, when she mentioned that she had an airline voucher that was about to expire.  She told me she’d mentioned it to a couple of friends over the past few weeks, but hadn’t gotten any solid takers for a weekend trip.

“Shit, I’ll go,” I told her.  Here face lit up. “Where?”

“Really?” she questioned me, answering, “I don’t know.”

“Hell yeah, man.  You shoulda known.  I’m always down for an adventure.”

She nodded, smiling, but not speaking.

“Where do you wanna go?” I asked again.

“I don’t really know.  Where do you wanna go? Where have you been?”

“Maaaan, I’ve been everywhere…” I started, dragging out my reply, “I mean pretty much…”  I left it open ended, “But I’ll go anywhere really. Let’s find somewhere cheap for me to fly to.”
“Ok,” she agreed, then added, “I was thinking about Nashville.”

I bounced off her idea, “Nashville? Wait, wait how ‘bout Memphis?” I asked.  “I was only there for a couple hours last summer… Well, I guess it’s two summer ago now… Anyway, yeah, how bout Memphis?”

“Ok,” she agreed, “I don’t know anything about Memphis, but yeah sure.”

“I just love the blues, man.  We can go down Beale St…” I started to reminisce, “There’s this bar that has a blue jam every night, man.  Oh, it’s so great.”

Settled on a place, we picked a date, and I looked up ticket prices.  They were stupid cheap and the next day, I bought mine.

 

The airport workers had started to move around a bit, and I noticed the gate door had opened behind me, so I packed up my stuff and stood up.  I swear every other person got off that plane before Sal did, but eventually, she came out of the tunnel.

 

After a cab ride to our house and some fumbling around in figuring out how to get inside, we stood in a small living room, attached to an even smaller kitchen in a cottage she’d booked us.  It wasn’t much bigger inside than my one bedroom apartment back in Denver, but it was cozy and despite there being two other rooms for guests, we were the only ones there.

We wanted to explore the backyard, but only found an exit door through one of the other bedrooms, which seemed to be permanently locked.  I fiddled around with the handle and the deadbolt for far longer than seemed reasonable, but Sal found another way out, through the front door and around a wooden gate to the side of the house.  She met me on the other side of the door and we fiddled a little more before abandoning our efforts.

I hopped out the front door to join her in the backyard where a huge beautiful oak tree had grown, towering over the suburban cottages, whose leaves had fallen mostly and speckled the yard.  They seemed to take up all the extra space left between sparse grassy patches. We sat down on the small patio next to the door that doesn’t open and schemed on the next few days. We didn’t have any solid plans, but we’d come up with some wandering to do, and we decided to make our first adventure to get a six pack and a lighter.

“Did you see a gas station on the way in?”  Sal asked me.

“No,” I responded, “but I wasn’t really paying attention.” I told her.

“That’s surprising.”

I nodded and agreed.  She knew as well as I did that directions and location were heavily ingrained in me.  Part of my identity was keeping track of where I was, and where other things were too.  The map in my head was steadily growing. I resolved with myself, deciding I was ready to be lost for a little while, unabashedly willing to let go of the daily controls of my life.

I let google lead the way.  As we approached the cross street of our quiet neighborhood, a stretch of commercial buildings reminded me of the east coast city where I’d grown up.  Just across the street, a neon sign glowed against dark tinted glass of a hookah bar. Sal and I both noticed it, wondering if it was actually open, but continued on our mission.  A new dollar store stood alone between two dated strip malls. In the next strip, a tobacco shop was open despite the darkness of the night, between a nail salon and a restaurant who’d already closed up.  Train tracks ran diagonally through the street ahead of us, leaving jagged edges in the asphalt.

On our left across the street, an unbranded gas station was marked with a dingy yellow canopy and header around the building.  The tall glass windows and the front door were barred by dark steel. Cigarette and beer price posters tempted behind them. Catty corner across the tracks, on our side of the street, the green lime lights of a BP station shone brightly.

“Which one do you want to go to?”  I asked Sal.

She shrugged, looking over at me, “I don’t know.”

I took another look.  

An old Pontiac had just pulled up to the gas pump at the unbranded station and parked.  Next to him, two young black man exited the store, gesturing playfully at one another as they conversed.  The BP station looked dead.

“Let’s go here,” I nodded towards the unbranded station, “It looks a little more real.  I like that.”

I paused for a second, because we had been wondering if we could buy beer at the convenience store.  I pointed out the advertisements in the window which had spurred another question as to whether or not it was full alcohol content.  I told Sal that I had never heard about the reduced content beers in grocery stores until I’d moved to Colorado and that frankly I thought it was pretty uncommon and weird.

I waited for a couple cars to pass then led Sal in a jaywalk across the street and through the parking lot.  We walked around the back of the Pontiac, up on the sidewalk, and through the doors of the store as a bell jingled above our head.  The cashier stood in a plexiglass cage that had become opaque, a collage of cardboard cutouts from tobacco products had been taped up, facing outwards, a menu for the patronage.

We moseyed down through an aisle of junk food towards the cooler at the back of the store, but not without first noticing a locked display case of paraphernalia.  

At the beer coolers, I eyeballed the tall boy cans, considering a malt beverage for the night.  I was shocked at my inability to remember the slang term for the extra large cans, and I asked Sal if she knew.  The only help she gave me was the term in Spanish “caguama” which I resolved to adopt into my vocabulary.

They had all the basic six packs- Bud, Coors, PBR, Miller, Busch- all varying degrees of piss water.  I was looking for something made in Tennessee, telling myself “When in Rome…” We had two options, but decided on the pilsner since Sal isn’t a fan of IPAs. At the front counter a brown skinned man checked us out, adding a gray lighter and a black plastic bag to our purchases.  He quickly moved on to the customer behind us before we had evacuated the tiny counter space, but neither of us was mad about it.

 

Back at the cottage, we hung out in the back yard for awhile with our Tennessee beers and a little weed.  We looked up tourist spots to check out. We were right around the corner from University of Memphis so we decided to get up in the morning and romp around campus a little.  We found a botanical garden nearby for another option. We did a little searching to figure out where the best Memphis barbecue joint was, deciding to have lunch at Central BBQ the next day.

By the time we put together a rough game plan, we still had energy to go out, and even though it was a Thursday I convinced Sal to check out Beale St for a couple of hours.  

Really, I was searching for what I’d found there before.  In one way this is an odd thing to do in, but in another it is so natural to a traveler who is revisiting.  The nostalgia I felt remembering Elena and I hanging out for only a few hours on Beale St on our cross country trip is highly romanticized in my head in a way no other place is and no other time is.  We were really free in those hours and we were really enjoying every moment of freedom that we had, trying to hang on to them whilst knowing that our trip was coming to an end.

But Sal and I didn’t stay long on Beale St.  There weren’t many people out and although there’s always music, we decided that we didn’t want to stay out too late.  We wanted to be ready for a full day of exploring, so we checked out a little corner bar, had a few beers, and then we ubered back to our neighborhood.

The idea of the hookah bar resurfaced so we decided to take a walk there.  Both of us really enjoyed smoking hookah though it wasn’t something we did often.  Sal had indulged more in the past, back in college, and she went on lively about the hookah setup she’d had in her college house.

The dingy strip mall hookah bar was cheap and mostly empty.  Two booths of patrons sat in the smoking room. We chose a black leather couch up against the shaded windows where the neon sides had flashed outside.  A waiter brought out the glowing ember and a hookah for us. As we sat down on the couch, we sank through the springs nearly to the floor, the wooden board at the front of the seat couch pressing into our hamstrings.  

Across the room from us was a group of black kids smoking and playing music.  I couldn’t’ help but watch curiously as one girl casually gave another a lap dance.  We chatted a little between hits but were quiet more often. One of the friends across the room was DJing.  He was absolutely killing the set. He’d been playing tracks from the new Chance record, some Kendrick, Cole, and Tribe, really giving an overview of the best hip hop from the year.  

Sal noticed my familiarity with the playlist.  It was undeniable. I’d been shoulder dancing along in my seat and singing along with all the hooks.  I’d even gotten a couple verses in, but rapping is hard for me.

Eventually he came over and sat down on the couch between Sal and I.  We shared hookah with him, trading shotguns of smoke back and forth. When Sal got up to use the bathroom, he tried to kiss me.

I didn’t try to make it awkward when I didn’t let him but it still was.  He apologized, but I explained to him that I wasn’t mad, but that I just wasn’t into it.  Soon thereafter he rejoined his friends.

We finished our shisha and decided to turn in.  We walked back home giggling, a little tingly from the tobacco, but mostly buzzing on each other’s energy and ready for our next day of exploring.

How to Properly Celebrate the Holidays with Friends or,

A Treatment On Leaning into Mars conjunct Neptune under a Sag New Moon

.

.

Get off work late on Friday.  Find your best friend, who is visiting from the East Coast, at a random hole-in-the-wall bar on Colfax that is so new they haven’t yet had a grand opening.  Taste a tangerine cream draft beer out of curiosity. Have a glass because it makes your heart nostalgic for childhood creamsicles even though your go-to winter beers are dark and heavy.  Watch sea creatures do weird shit on the bar TV in between your BF telling you about the museum exhibits where she spent six hours while you were working. Casually strip off your work t-shirt sitting at the bar, after a couple sips of beer.  Notice the hinged murphy-style tables along the opposite wall and consider the creative inspiration for your to-be camper van.

Drink your beer just a little faster than you would in other circumstances, knowing that your friends are waiting for you at taco night at the local dive bar, all the way down Colorado back towards your home.  Tell your BF that you forgot to tell her that we’d had taco night planned out for weeks. Also tell her that you’re supposed to be home for a dinner party, but you forgot to tell her about that too. She’s not mad.  She knows your sense of timing is never great. Strip off your baselayer in the bar bathroom, because you decided that if you go home now you’ll never make it back out again.

Remember that The Dirty Duck is waiting for you.  Remember that your roommates are also waiting for you at home.  Get the fuck out of that little hole in the wall St. Paul’s Tavern where you could’ve easy stayed the night and hope that next time you make it out of your own neighborhood that it’s still open.  Kindly make jokes with the bartender as you are leaving. Again, realize that your sense of timing is awful.

Have silly conversation with your BF on the ride south, where she reminds you (as if you could forget) that the bartender was very attractive.  Respond casually about how you do have a thing for bartenders.  Laugh because you both simultaneously remember how many bartenders you’ve flirted with through the years.  Never miss a fucking beat in conversation on the ride so that the fifteen minute drive feels like a sixty second float, but remember you have a destination just as the neon signs come into focus.  

Announce your arrival while hoping aloud that there are tacos left.  Also wonder aloud where to park, nearly find no spot, then nearly back the car down a hidden stairwell at the back of the building.  Catch eyes with your friends through a window of the bar, where they have found a single booth in the back corner. Walk through the entryway below hung mistletoe and holly, nod at the bartender, and survey the scraps of tacos left.  Circle around the table to check the second crock pot for scraps and come up short.

Introduce your BF to your table of friends, one of whom’s name you have forgotten.  Play off the embarrassment of wrongly introducing her by resigning to let people introduce themselves.  Pause as your friends giggle and realize that you are probably slightly manic. Realize that you haven’t stopped moving some part of your body for a number of hours.  Shrug it off for now. Let it carry you on past the 12 hour shift and into the night. Never sit down, either because there is no room at the booth or because you are due home for dinner in ten minutes and you need to stop at the liquor store first.  

Leave the bar just a quickly as you arrived, cordially apologizing again for misnaming a new friend and wishing them a great night.  Buzz into the liquor store two doors down, grabbing a six pack because the logo sports a penguin and fits into your idea of a dark winter beer.  Help your BF find the soda water which is hidden behind seltzer in a run-down Pepsi cooler near the entrance. Think the fluorescent lighting in the store makes it seem dingier than it would have been to begin with.  Wait behind a pair of boys, whom you check out to try and figure if they are gay or just good bros.

Make a grand entrance at home, just as everyone is sitting down to eat.  Be assured that you are not late though, because two of the friends you left at the bar have yet to arrive.  Walk back into your room at least twice for various things, forgetting something at least once.  Help bring the last unoccupied chairs in the house to an additional table for seating.

Cheers to another successful Around the World meal and pass plates around until everyone has a little bit of everything.  Run into the other room for some Lactaid when the main dish is announced to be mostly cheese, as company laughs. Cry a little as the pickled habanero onions melt into your taste buds and enjoy it.  

Talk much and loudly with your end of the two tables that has stayed put, but get lost in everyone else’s stories.  Tell an old story about yourself getting wasted and sleeping on the streets of Baltimore for the entertainment of your BF.  Let yourself be kicked off kitchen clean up duty and find friends to listen to again. Express your gratitude that there are guests kind enough in your house to clean up the kitchen after they were cooked for.  

Drink more beer.  Help move the table out of the living room and back to its home.  Let the minutes fade by, while you jump from conversation to conversation until only a handful of friends are left in the house and one of them gives you a 10% beer.  

Don’t say ‘goodbye’ because you’re determined to stay conscious through the night even with a 10% beer in hand.  Have a conversation about racism and institutions and ancestral trauma while still sipping on a 10% beer.

Wind up in the living room on a couch surrounded by friends for a card game.  Finish your 10% beer during said card game and switch to red wine. Feel totally at home sipping red wine because she is your keeper.  Participate, but also forget all the specific reasons for full belly laughter while playing with your friends. Don’t forget the way it feels in a warm room full of laughter.  Remember honestly complimenting the good looks of one of your guy friends and the gorgeous smile spread across his face upon taking the compliments.

Eagerly enjoy the idea of drunk pilates and find yourself a space of the floor.  Begin to lose memory about half way through, but not before the keywords ‘anterior pelvic tilt’ and ‘3:30 am’ and wake up face down on the leather couch wondering why you hadn’t gone to bed.  Stagger in and curl up next to your BF who you assume must be sleeping soundly by now.

Wake up around 10 with a splitting headache and growling belly.Acknowledge you must’ve drank twice as many calories than you’d eaten the day before.  Roll over and know you’d go back to sleep if it weren’t for a fully awake human also in your bed who is asking what we’ll do today. Mumble ‘breakfast’ and roll over again, away from the door this time.

Wonder aloud what your best travel buddy (BTB) is doing and tell your BF we’re gonna try the new/reopened brunch spot across the street.  Call your BTB, have a playful conversation comparing our friendship to that of Franco-Rogen, where I assign her Franco because she’s hot and she reassigns it back to me saying I’m the hottest.  

Resolve to meet at Morning Story in 10 minutes but don’t arrive for closer to 20.  Invite your also-hungover roommate and chef of the previous night to brunch. Dress yourself most comfortably and walk casually down the middle of your neighborhood street to the adjacent strip mall.  Laugh more while recounting yourself passed out on the couch, where apparently your BF had tried tediously to get you up but you refused.

Order a trifecta of beverages, that is water, coffee, and orange juice, just like you used to every morning back in Baltimore after you’d been out drinking.  Wait a few minutes for your BTB to show up and try to grab her attention awkwardly with your hand in the air as you watch her peer out across the restaurant floor.  Let your smile extend to each ear when she sees you, as hers has done the same. Eat food and make jokes and affectionately lay your head on the shoulder of your booth-mate.  

Awkwardly add a fifth friend to the table about halfway through your meal.  Talk a little about politics and viewpoint diversity and cultural backgrounds.  Hate declining an invitation to a quinceanera in the mountains because you’re feeling so much like you need to be still, like you need to be home.  Forget your bill on the table as you go to pay the cashier and joke with the cashier’s trainer about being lively hungover women. Know that the lovely energy you’re putting out into the world is affecting others in a positive way.  

Stumble back home where you feel so full of food and drink and love that you’ve forgotten about the hangover.  Share a joint in the backyard to assure that the hangover won’t creep back in. Film your cat playing with a tarp, using his claws to bounce shriveled leaves up into the air to watch them fall.

Decide you need to spend time with the Earth today.  Feel the low winter sun on your face and see the long shadows she casts and feel witchy.  Survey the plot of bare ground at the back of the house and the tiller you snagged from your ex and the dead goat heads that invaded the garden space and know that you want to build something there.  Hug your BTB the best goodbye, regretting missing the quinceanera but knowing you want to be here now.

Express your gratitude that it’s Saturday and that there’s a whole other day of freedom ahead of you.  Ask your roommate if she wants to have a permaculture garden this year and fill up with joy when she agrees. Till the garden plot, little by little.  Imagine the plants that will grow there in spring.

Listen to your BF and your roommate talk about life, about taxes, about old relationships, and chime in when you see fit.  Spread around the ashes from the fire pit that your roommate lays in the garden plot. Switch tilling directions after some time, when you feel the muscles of your shoulder tire.  Make goals for short breaks, where you check on the fire your roommate is building and appease the desire for your BF to be involved in the creative process.

Agree to do a pallet project but choose not to lead it.  Gather craft materials from around the house and the garage with which your BF creates.  Finish tilling the garden plot, both shoulders sore now. Clean out the pots of last years’ plants.  Give the stalks of the plants to your roommate for burning and chant them back to the Earth. Continue light chanting as you pour the leftover soil into the freshly tilled garden patch.  Repeat until all pots are empty and stacked neatly by the grill.

Sit down at the patio table and begin to envision a natal chart painting that is not yet realized.  Fuck it up about halfway through with the wrong paint brush and abandon your work. Admire the recycled art your BF has made while you’ve been tilling and join her beside the fire as she elaborates her sculpture.  

Eat frozen pizza that your roommate has cooked and sit together around the fire.  Watch the Yule log burn into the night that comes so early this time of year entranced by the process of burning, and feel overfull of the wonders of the Earth.  Talk about when to start seeds and what to grow. Talk about the Solstice party you want to have in a couple of weeks. Move around the fire, soaking in its warmth on different sides of your body as the frigid night air sets in around you.  Speak of the difference in temperatures aloud while fully experiencing them.

Let the fire die, or rather endorse your roommate’s question to put it out.  Watch the embers glow faint and bright again for a few minutes, seeing all of the cosmos right there in the small fire pit.  Feel the cold run you back inside the house.

Change clothes and leave the house for an ornament decorating party.  Don’t wear a real bra. Wear your glasses. Grab a beer to go and wait for a Lyft. Chat casually with the driver on the short ride over.

See friends on the awning porch and give big full loving hugs.  Smile like you mean it because you do. Stand outside a little longer than is comfortable but eventually find your way in.  Notice the hostess across the room, slicing cured meats for the food platters that line the kitchen counter. Grab a few snacks, feeling the warmth of her smile when she sees you.  Chatter with old friends around the room about basically anything and introduce your BF only half of the time. Eagerly wait for the ornament decorating table to clear up because you still have creative juices left.  Watch friends interact across the room as you listen to other friends chat beside you.

Pull a chair up to the decorating table and get to work.  Paint five ornaments and make yourself stop because you feel you are being antisocial.  Make a new friend over ornament aesthetics, your host’s coworker, and invite her to your Solstice party.  

Join the group of friends who has begun playing King’s Cup across the room, where your outfit is not suited to sit on the floor so you awkwardly keep changing positions.  Make a mental note that even wearing boyish clothes can be uncomfortable. Chat with a friend about his foot injury and about work and about life. Remember that you are still very attracted to him.  

Tell your BF to take a nap on the couch since she is tired.  Forget that she is sleeping behind you. Recognize that within a fifteen minute window, everyone has cleared out except for a small group of rugby players who have now transitioned to On the Bus from King’s Cup.  Realize that you have an enormous amount of love and affection for every single human that is left in the room with you.

Try to play along with the card game, but continuously get hung up in a side conversation or with passing around bottles of wine.  Pour another glass of a particularly tasty cab sav that you won’t remember the name of. Ditch the game of On the Bus because you’ve have been trying to beat one round for what seems like an eternity and have barely made it past the center point.  Have your attention grabbed by a plea for karaoke requests by your host and the offbeat rapping of your friends. Try to hear the music over drunk gargling but spend half the song partially laughing and partially shaking your head for the lack of rhythm in the room.  Sing along to your favorite Christmas song next.

Come back to reality, your BF directly in line of sight with a look of agony on her face, like she is on the verge of a full mental collapse, pleading to know when you are going home.  Order her a Lyft and take the four minutes it takes for them to arrive to stand next to her and wait.

Resume Christmas caroling when she is gone and for hours on from there.  Swig a bottle out of a friend’s hand, the wonderful cab sav, before another friend hands you your own bottle.  

Kneel by the fireplace beside the hostess and wrap your arm around her as she has hers around you and sway back and forth with your bottles and your songs.  Dance along rapping to an old hip hop hit while she twerks across the room. Notice an encore of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with a beautiful closing statement from the host to “Go the fuck home” cause again you’ve made it to 3:30am and it’s time to call it quits.  

Stumble into bed a second night in the row but not after hanging your two favorite new ornaments on the Christmas tree in the living room, this time cuddling up next to your BF, and hoping that you weren’t too loud while drunkenly trying to navigate your house and your room.  Sleep like a baby whose been so overstimulated by laughter and love that they don’t wake up for 12 hours. Feel the love still when you wake up the next morning, but don’t forget to feel the hunger too. The hunger for food, yes, but also the hunger for sustenance. The hunger to connect with each other.  The hunger to be with the Earth. The hunger to be kind and to have fun and to be free, and the hunger to continuously feel the love that radiates around you, whether it be Christmas season or not.

Balance vs Contrast

I broke my watch yesterday and since I’ve been unable to attach myself to a single idea.  It’s unimaginably weird to find yourself toppling into a depressive hole over the slightest physical change, but I’ve come to realize (although particularly slowly) that this is my life.

Barely able to focus on the written words, never mind the narrative story, I trudged through an article earlier about the American way in moving.  This peaks content on my list of interests, and yet, I could barely make it through a paragraph without my mind wandering to one of my current anxieties.  I also read earlier that one of the main psychological therapeutic issues my generation (read: millennials) is facing today is the overwhelming anxieties of life.  

In one of my three (read: too little) therapy sessions of the recent past, my brilliant therapist questioned me as to whether my dedication to work, amongst other things, is merely a conditioned action, that is, am I only succeeding out of desire to please those around me?  

This, naturally, I denied strongly at first, defending myself with predictable reactions (well I just care a lot, I really invest myself in things, etc) and from there denying her suggestion arguing that for me they intrinsic motivations.  The second reaction only came after hearing myself babble such cliche reasonings aloud.  In the midst of the words, I felt embarrassed, mislead, and generally confused about how and why I’d been living this kind of professional, adult life for the last six years.  Finally, I shut down my mouth, realizing her question was not only valid, but certain held some truth.  I’m still not sure how much of it I’ve fully digested.

Here I am, six months later, practically jobless and poor as dirt, but with all the time in the world to do whatever I want with my life, but instead of writing narrative or playing my guitar (which I haven’t this week), all I could manage to do was sleep.  I joked earlier ago that I was challenging the cat to a sleeping match.  Until about an hour ago, I had him beat, spending just less than 5 hours out of bed today, but he retired again, curled up like a tabby baked potato on the couch, and here I am realizing (read: for the first time today) that I’m in a hole and that yesterday I was on a cloud.  Mania seems to come in mild forms for me these days, but I couldn’t tell you why.  I’m guessing it’s just because I have less to do, so it stretches its legs throughout a variety of stresslessness, but I still crash.

Yesterday, I was so productive.  A weightlifting session, six hours of driving people around, a few hours working on the pickup, an attempt at touch rugby, a load of laundry and a shower.  It took seventeen straight waking hours to get all that done, but I felt good about doing it all until the end of the night.  The tired crept on me slowly.  By ten pm, Rach found me sitting on the floor next to the dryer folding clothes, because I didn’t have it in me to stand anymore.  By the I was done weight lifting this morning, I had started the mental battle of ‘to be or not to be’.  I eventually decided the only reasonable action was to come home and ‘not be’ in the sense that I’d lose myself in sleep.

Now, it’s nearly eleven, and all I can do is relive the contrasts of the last two days.  My mind wanders some more, mostly back and forth about what to do with my life, but it still doesn’t settle on any idea.  It seems the entirety of my twenties has been spent not settled on any idea and that these swings between highly productive and beyond reasonably tired have always been apart of my life.  Since I was a kid, I remember having swings like this, and for the fifth or sixth time this year, I just said aloud to myself, “Maybe I do need some kind of medication.”

I have an interview for a full time, benefited, PTO, sick days, sign-on bonus, trucker job the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and although I’m sure they’ll want to hire me before I leave, I’m not sure that I want it.  To be completely honest, I’m not sure that I want anything at all, ever.

Spent the Day in Bed: A Reflection of my Body Image

Every time I wake up

From a nap that’s too long

Or too short

From an entire night’s sleep

Or a split schedule rest

Before I dress myself

I stare at my abdomen

In the mirror atop my dresser

Trying to validate the extra pounds

That sit just above my underwear line

I hold my shirt up

Lift my arms

Turn sideways

From various angles

Assessing the lines my body makes

From the splash in at my waistline

Back out again before my hips

I tug and squeeze at the soft spots

Imagining them taut, flat

Telling myself that I’m attractive

Regardless of my flaws

While still wishing my body

Looked different, was smaller

Sometimes, I go through this ritual before bed too

 

I have spent years of my life telling myself that one day I will be thin.  By middle school, going shopping with my mother became a conflicted task.  I loved new clothes whether or not I really needed them.  Mostly, they gave me satisfaction in my body, in my physical image, but the reminder that I was always a size bigger than her scarred my image.  I felt like a pretty girl whose head was just a little too small for her body.  

Even then, I pulled at my upper arms in the mirror, often after a trip when I wanted a particular shirt or dress that wouldn’t fit comfortably around my biceps.  I would get home and shut myself in my room and imagine how great I would look if I was as small around as I was without my arms down.

Just a few years ago, near the climax of my father’s illness, I expressed to him and a couple of his aunts my desire to get back in shape, how I’d like to lose twenty pounds.  I’d gotten lost on a run in their neighborhood earlier in the day, which turned two miles into four and I was proud of my ability to still run so long.  Somehow I turned the story into an expression of my lack of comfort with my body, I don’t understand how.  My aunt, generally supporting my idea, replied, “That’s great, honey.  Just remember that you’re never going to be a small person.”  I knew my size came from his side, from her side, those genes in the family, that my stature or bone structure, my muscle mass and general build, would never change.  Why, then, at age 26 was I still imagining a day that I would be compact, small, and fit?  Why is it still a nagging problem that I am a big girl even though I’ve squashed the problem numerous times?

 

Rugby has taught me so much about my body.  I am strong.  Strong enough to tackle a girl that is nearly twice my size.  Strong enough to run through someone the same size as me who is literally trying to pull me to the ground.  Strong enough to drive multiple opponents off of the ball in a ruck, all in one movement.  Even when I fail, my body and my teammates never give up on me.

My professional life has taught me so much about my body.  I am capable of doing what is stereotyped to be a man’s job.  I can change a hundred pound air conditioning compressor on a class B tanker truck in the snow on the side of the road.  My shoulder muscles may hurt halfway through doing it, but they will not give up on me.  I am strong enough to deliver eight thousand pounds of groceries, on a wheeler and down a ramp, out the back of a semi-trailer, faster and more efficient than most of my male colleagues.

I’ve been hard headed enough, even recently, to move nearly all of my belongings solo.  I do it because I know I’m capable, and also because I am insecure.  I don’t want to ask anyone for help out of the inconvenience it may cause them.

I’ve spent most of my twenties proving to myself that I’m capable of doing nearly anything a man can physically do, not just because I am strong but because I am insecure.

I am looking to validate my big, strong body, but why am I looking to validate something that I know is capable? When will I stop trying to prove to the rest of the world that my size is valid?

About a month ago, one of my best friends said, “I’m done with trying to have a hot body.  I just want it to be strong and fit and healthy.”  I’m taking that advice to heart.

I will stop assessing the fat on my stomach in the mirror every day.  I am more fit than I have been in years and I will continue to get more fit, but not for the objective of losing weight or losing my belly.  Two hundred pounds look good on me.  It feels good on me too.

I am strong.  I am capable.  I am myself and I love myself.  I will stop hating my body because it is part of me and I love it too.

Just as this struggle with image has always been part of my life, I know it will continue.  This is a reminder that I can be better, and by being better to myself, I will be better to my community.

A Glimmer of Energy

“I love Prague.  The sun is coming up and although I just rode home in an uber with my homies, I can’t stop thinking about making out with Anna in the club we just left.  The birds are chirping, a choir to ring in a new day and a new gay Prague with double Ds and a pretty face, brown hair and a mole above her upper lip.  A girl that wants to show us Prague like a local.  She was born here, but for half the time I was straddling her I thought she was from California.  That kind of girl.  I’d still be there if my homies weren’t ready for bed.  But I sit now, listening to the birds and reflecting.  They said it was a night to be weird.  I took it to heart.”

From Berlin: 06/28/17

The setting sun casts warm shadows across the beige stucco and red painted iron balconies of the resident apartments across the street.  The view from the forth floor window ledge of our hostel room isn’t anything spectacular but it holds an allure, maybe about the days to come or about the regrowth of this city since the last world war.  The sky is small here, even more so than in Amsterdam, as the long, wide buildings reach across blocks of downtown nearly touching each other.  Despite its size though, the powder blue of a late summer’s sunset now deepens to periwinkle, boasting beauty and with it, shedding a stillness in the air.  Cars roll by on the street below, but none disrupt the stillness here, just as the babbling of a few men in the room next door do not disturb.  We are all peaceful, ready to spend the night inside and around the hostel.  Our roommates are ghosts for now, a nice touch, and we decide to hang around and do laundry.

Five hours spent in the Duisberg train station last night was generally uneventful.  By the time we’d arrived at the station it was after midnight, so the only people around were beggers, drunks, and a handful of backpackers like ourselves.  At the entrance to the station, four rows of benches were nearly crowded by us, our friends, and a handful of others, who all seemed to be waiting for the train the next morning.

With thirteen platforms and double that may shops, only two were open upon our arrival.  A baker stood at one open counter, his thick German accent I’d hadn’t adjusted to when I’d asked where the bathrooms were.  I repeated my question and understood his answer the second time. Charley swooned at the pastries in the glass case, and I couldn’t help but reciprocate.

Our friend who’d confirm the suspicion that we’d missed our train at the Arnhem station was still tagging along and we finally introduced ourselves.  Her name was Claudia.  

I walked right past the bathroom at platform ten, stopping at the bottom of the stairs, and not listening so well, Fati had to repeat herself twice before I realized she was pointing at the bathroom entrance.  It was covered in bright royal blue and yellow graphics without a door handle, but next to a coin machine, asking 1 euro for entry.  I stuck my hand in my right pocket, rattling around the change I’d collected through the day.

“Well, we’re all in this together,” I annouced, and I dropped a 2 euro piece in the coin slot, expecting change, but not getting it.

Surprisingly, the four of us and all our packs fit comfortably inside the bathroom.  Fati thought that maybe we could’ve just slid in and out as the door opened for each of us, and though the forethought was good, we’d already begun.

From there, we wandered to the other end of the station, where we found the entrance, the boys, and the rows of seats.  They were navy blue and shared armrests, just like the ones in American airports.  

We stopped next to the only other open concession stand in the station, a McDonalds, eyeballing couch bench seats as a decent place to try and sleep.  We had five hours ahead of us to fill, and considering it was midnight, sleep seemed like the mostly viable option.

Stood in a circle, Fati suggested having a smoke and I concurred.

“Weed or tobacoo?” I asked.

“Well, we’re not in Amsterdam anymore, so I don’t think we can just smoke anywhere.” she replied.  I nodded in agreement, but wondered where we could go.  

To my left, just outside the glass doors of the station, a small group of drunkards and vagrants leaned, stood, and sat against an information kiosk covered by a gray tarp.  They looked harmless, but still, I didn’t know anything about the German people.  Matter of fact, I had still thought we were in the Netherlands, and I didn’t know much about their people either.

What I did know was mixed.  Most of the couch surfing accounts Fati had looked into for us in Berlin seemed weird: off-beat humor and interests, so I found and booked a hostel.  Hostels in Berlin were cheap, most around 25 euro a night, but we found one for 19 and I jumped on it.  

I also knew that a few people in Amsterdam had told us that the German people were a bit mean and unaccomodating, but then, from another momentary friend, were told how great the city was.  On the last platform, Claudia had expresses to us how much she liked Berlin, though she hadn’t been there on as a tourist, but visiting friends outside of City Center.

Then, she taught us something else. “Oh, you can,” she nodded, making the motion for smoking with her hands while nodding.

“We can smoke outside?”  I asked her, and she nodded in response.

“You can here.  And in Spain too.  Just when the police come…” she motioned extinguising a joint on the sidewalk, “It’s ok.”

So we walked outside to the end of the entrance patio, which stopped at sets of large stone pottery filled with dirt and plants and benches attached to the sides.  We formed a circle again, facing inwards on each other and dropping our packs in the middle.  Charley’s day pack fell to the outside of her left foot.

“Watch that man,” Fati pointed at it while she spoke.

Charley moved it between her feet.

We chatted for a bit in English, while Fati packed a pipe of tobacco, but as would happen again the next day, Claudia asked for a single world translation to English, which spurred them into a side conversation in Spanish.

I had the pipe, had remembered again how to smoke tobacco out of it, and was thoroughy enjoying the whisps of tobacco in my mouth, even as they escaped.  I handed the pipe back to Fati.

Inside, Claudia had told us she’d never smoke weed from a pipe before, so once we finished the tobacco, Fati packed a bowl up and we set on instructing her.  Fati handed her the pipe, while telling her, but she attempted to light it without having the hitter in her mouth and pulling.  

Fati continued to explain, but after another failed attempt, I put my hands out, asking to take it from her, to show her how to do it.

She’d told us that none of her friends smoked this way, but that she’d mostly smoked joints, and a couple times out of a homemade bong.

“Made with a plastic bottle?” I asked enthusiatically, to which she nodded and laughed, exhaling the smoke.  I laughed rotundly too, hopping up on one foot and throwing my right arm out pointing.

“Yes!”  I exclaimed, “It’s a universal experience.”  We all laughed a bit.

A few minutes later, Fati asked Claudia if she spoke Catalan and we diverted into a conversation about Catalonian history.  Though she spoke fluent Spanish, she also spoke Catalan as her native language, and we asked her what it sounded like.

“What do you want me to say?”  she giggled a little through.

“The sky is blue.”  I responded, to which she interpreted and rolled off her tongue.  It sounded a bit French to me, with maybe a bit of Spanish as well, but Fati thought it was more French than anything, with a little Portuguese.  We asked her a bit more about Catalonia.

She explained to us the old world movement to succeed from Spain, but that it was undesirable for her to vote for such a referendum because she didn’t want to lose her EU citizenship.  Makes sense, I thought.

Then, as I had mentioned earlier that Fati and I had originally planned to begin our trip in Barcelona and move up the French Rivieria, she told us that the Rivieria wasn’t much to see anymore.  She said that maybe ten or fifteen years ago it had been beautiful, but now, it was overdeveloped with all large buildings.

She stuttered trying to expand in English upon her idea, but stopped, agreeing with me when I asked her if it was just like a resort, and agreeing, but saying, “I cannot explain because I would compare it to other places in Europe, but you do not know these places.”

I nodded, accepting the explanation.

Fati and Claudia broke into a Spanish conversation, of which I tried my best to listen and understand, but was soon lost, just trying to pick out words then, when Charley caught my eye, shifting her weight onto her toes, popping up and asking, “Can we eat?”

She hadn’t been loud enough to interrupt our companions, but I nodded agreeing it was time for a snack.  That was one big blessing for the trip- we were all on the same eating schedule.

After a request to the others, a bit of waiting once conversation took a turn and then died down, we trompsed back inside to the bakery, where Charley and I picked out a sandwich and a pastry quickly.  I pulled more euro coins out of my pocket, paying less than two euros for my chocolate vanilla square.  It was good too, and fresh.  Charley gnawed into a sandwich on baguette.

Fati had seemed a bit undecided about getting anything, but as Charley, Claudia, and I began to wander away, she hollered out to us, “Hold on guys,” and grabbed the same pastry as me.

She bit into it, thinking aloud, “I shoulda just gotten the chocolate.”

We meandered back to the rows of seats.  McDonalds was now closed, so retired in the empty spaces next to the boys, we all took turns napping, uncomfortably with our heads laid over sideways on our shoulders or slouched down so far in the seats that most of our asses hung off.

The rest is a blur.  I awaken sharply in the station, my contact lenses glued to my eyes.  I rub them to create some tears.  Upstairs, we boarded the train, and quickly fall back asleep.  Claudia’s head folded down on the table between our seat like that of a tired school child and I wedged myself perpendicularly across the seat up against the glass window outside.

Hours later, we arrived in Berlin, all still sleeping.  Luckily, the boys woke us up when we arrived.  Foggy eyed still, we exited, thanking the boys and taking the escalators up to the main level of the station, where we parted ways.  It was five stories tall, full of open shops, the morning sun bursting through the glass-paned exterior walls of the station.  It was time to wake up, if only briefly, and find our way around a new city.  To Tiergarten we’d head, after dropping our luggage and grabbing groceries for lunch.

“To hard-ons & heartbreak” (circa 2015)

We clink our Irish coffee mugs together at a high-top table for two on the second floor of Slainte and smile.

“Cheers,” she says.

“To hard-ons and heartbreak,” I reply.  We laugh and take a biting sip of coffee.

Earlier that morning, I found myself outside in the glaring summer’s sun without shades, wearing last night’s clothes, old and dirty, and smelling like sex.  My sandals on the sidewalk make a particularly tense clopping sound as I walked the block to my car, the wrong way first.  My face lit up as Pablo, my old reliable red Honda Civic, comes into view.  He starts right up, as always, and I proceeded home.

Last time I stayed the night there was in a particularly manic drunken state,where my intentions were not so clear and bold.  Nowhere as clear and bold as last night.  

I laid on my stomach, awoken by the morning sunlight, stark naked, with my head turned towards him.  For maybe half an hour, I drifted in and out of a sleep state, depending on what he was doing.  A few times he touched me in a way that revealed his intentions, but I wasn’t feeling like doing much but dozing off, hiding from the hangover that was starting to creep on.  There’s a comforting feeling in knowing that someone is watching you sleep, really genuinely caring, that redeemed his desires.  

It was only right that we had a night together before I leave, before I’ve disappeared completely.  It didn’t even need to be spoken.  I knew he knew.   Part of him may hope that it’ll happen again but I can tell you he’s brighter than that.  It’s hookup culture, baby.  I live intimately only in hours of drunken stupor.  It’s the only way I know how to open up again and again.

Now I sit, listening to my best friend talk, listening to her worry about everything about other people that she can’t control.  She cares a hell of a lot, I’ll give her that.  I explain things about the people that are causing her worries, that most people need different things from romantic relationships than us.  She understands then and calms down, accepting that different people have different needs.  We chat more waiting on our brunch, speaking now on friendship, as we often do, and comparing other peoples’ bond to our own.

“That’s it,” I realize, “I know I can always call you to just be around me.”  I pause briefly,  “But I also know that when I don’t want to be, you’re still ok.”

She nods in agreement, smiling and saying, “You’re my best relationship.”