The girl leaning against me is maybe five feet tall.
I feel short in this country.
She says. She is raven haired and over-dressed for the summer sky we’re under. She holds herself bundled, as though suffering some mountain storm.
I think you’d be short in most countries.
I say. The girl leaning against me is maybe twenty. She is from Bolivia and she is a porcelain doll that speaks with a slight hesitation before delivery. She is here to study. She is here for the great opportunity.
Her very first words to me were that she should have never left home. And, having myself drifted through some of South America’s wafts and wails, I did not disagree.
We are talking to each other, because, for the moment, no one else will talk to us at this shindig. We are standing outside a house party that doubles as a concert space. A tall, slender, three story structure that a bunch of kids rented and then turned around and sold to rock and roll.
The basement of the house is a furnace of sound. A mass of sweaty kids slide all over each other. What was once the corner of the room is now a small band. That the sweaty kids bounce and roll on and off, over and around. Stacked amps, barely visible in the chaos, produce a noise that sets fire to every emptiness, every discernable distance.
Outside there is a fire too. But it feels small and at the bottom of the night sky. Around, clusters of Twenty-somethings lounge in every possible upright contortion. They climb anything that can be climbed. They laugh and shill and puff. They wear bright colors and horrible sunglasses.
I am three hundred years old and lost at sea. I am the captain of only my pockets and boots. I am in a spacesuit and jeans.
You are big and I am small.
The porcelain girl says. And I laugh. As she nestles against me. I welcome the warmth on an already warm night. I had forgotten how cold lonely is.
You could be my moon.
I say. And she laughs. It is a small laugh that tickles the street-lamps and stars. They coo like grinning infants, dumb with what they know of love.
And all of a sudden I notice that I already have a moon.
A short blond choppy haired good-looking kid has been standing behind me for I don’t know how long. He seems a little older than the girl before me, but isn’t much taller. He’s got one of those looks on his face that we all make when we’re holding too many things in our minds at once. And it finally dawns on me that he’s returned for what he left behind. Only to find it leaning against me.
A good lesson to learn early, I chuckle to myself.
How’s it going?
I say. And hold out my hand. He takes it out of reflex more than anything, and I hold this lifeless gesture firm in my grasp for a second too long. And I look at this kid in the eyes and speak loud with my mind.
We own nothing, kid. It is all a gift we usually don’t deserve, and won’t have for long.
How’s it going.
He says dully. I let him go. Then I turn to the porcelain girl, gently clasp her arm and smile, and let her go, too. The kid gingerly puts his arm around her as they drift away. She gives me a bemused shrug before she’s completely gone.
I turn and throw myself into the mass of bad sunglasses. I’m searching the crowd for my people. I’m searching the crowd for Goodman and Lupe.
THE DUDES I AM LIVING WITH are damn handy.
They build fence gardens and custom motorcycles on Sunday afternoons. They increase the synergistic efficiency of corporate offices by ten percent, while suffering one hundred percent hangovers. They have flourishing businesses in their basements, just next to the sleep cots of visiting deadbeats. They have half pipe skate ramps in their garages, with plenty of room for the car.
They are mostly from the great state of Michigan, the best state in the Union. And they throw themselves out into the world like they’re skipping stones. Their lives are rubbing off on me and giving me new skin. And I am grateful.
I am a deadbeat in the basement. I should probably explain.
I had a life but I lost it. And so, over the past stretch I’ve had a few conversations with lightning strikes and bomb shelters. And so, for now, I have given myself to the river. I float, and trust only collisions to tell me what is true.
Living in the river means you live in basements, or back rooms. If you’re lucky you live off someone else’s amazing generosity, but if you’re not, you live off someone’s desperate fuck you over bottom line, or in the chaos off the grid.
You take random gigs. You get creative with spices while cooking stones. You have a monthly ceremony of selling your blood and books (yes, you can still do that), and jumping off the nearest cliff without checking if there’s water below.
Every week is a goddamn marathon of stretching dimes. That barely cover the wine, cheese, and baguettes you eat for most meals, because what the fuck is life without wine, cheese and baguettes.
When I left my sister, when her cancer left her, and the bubble of my old life and love and home was gone, I decided I had nothing to lose. I decided to find out what I actually gave a shit about. I decided to find out what the hell my boundaries were.
And all boundaries, on this peculiar globe, start with the bottom.
So I found mine.
And it was made of whiskey and tequila and fish sticks and a small rug on the floor and the sky opening above me and a study of the void that purchased no design and whiskey and crackers and a friendship with a cat that licks his own nipple. And that is all I will ever say about that.
When I woke, my beard was bird’s nest, my skin was wrapped bone. But I knew, as sure as things can be made and broken, that I found one of the six walls that make up my thing. That I found my footfall.
And that’s great. I am humbled and ever so grateful for the gift of transient cool breaths that sail amongst so many impossibly beautiful forms. At finding ever before my eyes the always underwater sway.
But still, where the fuck do you go after bottom? Are there stairs somewhere?
Do you just sit for a while?
I AM SEVEN HUNDRED YEARS OLD and standing in a crowd of kids who don’t yet believe they’re going to die.
Goodman and Lupe are nowhere in sight.
Standing just off from the outside house fire, is a young woman, maybe twenty-five or so. She looks as though she is leisurely sheltering in the shadows of volcanoes.
She wears a shapeless hat that I’m guessing wanted to be a beret when it grew up. She wears baggy, ill fitting clothes that stand in sharp contrast to the snug sexual peacocking of her peers. She is standing alone and not talking to anyone. I am standing alone and not talking to anyone.
Our eyes meet. And I am too old to look away from something that interests me. And she is bold, but at the same time somehow weary, and she also does not look away.
After a short while, words are necessary to break a line that would have lasted too long.
Did you check out the band?
I offer. I’ve lead with worse, believe me.
No. Being down there is like drinking from fifty people’s armpits.
She says. Damn that’s good, I think.
Damn that’s good.
I say. Sometimes I have a problem with filters. Sometimes I have a problem with having no filters.
She says. And smirks and shuffles. She is beautiful but doesn’t really give a shit if you notice. Her body is wadded into this lump of clothes, but it is plainly there in the gaps. Alive and pert and shimmering and silk woven.
I look up at the dark dark sky and how the light lets go after a while.
It certainly is a lovely night.
I say. Meaning it, but also just saying it.
Yes it certainly is lovely weather.
She says. It is a simple joke that makes me smile, and laugh. And I find in the air around me the melody of her laughter in accompaniment. And I turn to study her face again. There is a kindness around her eyes, which are centered on a perfect circle, unbearably cute and impossibly young.
But there is a dark vein of thought just under the surface; it swims like shadows of sharks under cool blue waters.
She turns to me now, giving me her fullness. And for the first time she sees me, I think. And for the first time I wonder what the hell I look like. And for the first time she understands that I’m seeing her, through the gaps.
There is a brief flash of something that runs along that dark fault, but it is short lived. Her eyes come to me like some habitable planet on the other side of things known.
I had a baby girl. I lost her.
She says to the night. She shrugs. A matter of fact shrug reserved only for the survivors of fire.
I say in a tone that is not a whisper, but that floats as softly as I can fly. I feel like I’m speaking for the space around me as much as my little blobby form.
No. I gave her away.
Did you want to?
I don’t know.
She says. And the words hang and echo and make it needless to say anything more. So we sit there as if we’re seated next to each other on a bus to some far off end. Watching the night spin over our laps and folded hands.
Shouted out of the small swirls of youth and chatter, I hear my name, from the tenors of Goodman and Lupe. They tell me it’s time to go, though it is a title card to a moment already in the catalog of gone.
I have no words for the girl but goodbye. But I try to put a piece of myself in it. And she has no words for me either, her eyes a scrap paper of psalms, twirling slowly away.
THERE IS NO CREATURE QUITE AS exquisitely self-centered as the 21st century male.
It is a disease that requires a worldview sea change, just to learn you are afflicted. It is the eternal expectation that mother life thinks you are her most special one, cuts the crust off your job offers, brings you ginger ale and wipes your wheezy god damn soul.
Here, in this tiny little corner of the world is a collection of boys who are all a little bit lost and lonely. A bit left behind. A bit too much work to be worth it. A bit messy from the miscalculations and the heart broke downs. All the ways we tried but couldn’t make things be.
The boys I live with sometimes call our house the shit house. Because we’re known to get a little bit shitty.
But, also, we kind of think we’re the shit. Or, at the least, we are in the veins of the shit.
(Don’t get me wrong – one thing I’ve learned for real is that being the shit is mostly a regional system. It’s a pocket of people in a certain context and environment. It’s a puddle of a moment. And it doesn’t matter if that puddle is Chicago or Los Angeles or Seattle or Austin or Manhattan or Winooski.
And the thing with genius is that it’s as much an act of an individual as it is a soup.
Michael Jordan couldn’t have happened in 1950. Einstein probably wouldn’t have been Einstein if he married another woman.
Beer distributors, Hollywood – so many things, are all constructions built to house particular veins of excellence in this existence.
But the funny thing about humans is that when we build a structure to house something, we fall into this belief that that thing can’t be found elsewhere. Think – the Oscars, pro Football, the Louvre, Broadway, NASA, the fucking Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The best of the best, right?
When, in fact, the pulse of that thing is fucking everywhere. And the best is actually happening multiple places, all over existence. All the time. In fragments and pockets and swirls and butterfly parades.
The first ant to find the sugar line gets the glory, but there’s a shit ton of others out there bumping around and still lost, that had the exact same chance. That also danced brilliantly.
We are all really fucking good at what we do well.
There are a couple billion people who are the shit. Maybe everyone is the shit, given the right turns and helping hands. I’ve met kids in the middle of the Amazon, that live in slatted wood shacks, that have a better ear for the rhythm of all things than your average Rick Rubin.)
Living with me in the shit house are Bobby Southard, Goodman, and Morris.
And I’d say that what sets us boys apart from most of the male afflicted, is that we know it. We know we are unfit for consumption. We know we are insufferable, and so we’ve cordoned ourselves off like an aquarium of only Crocodiles and Great Whites. There will be chunks taken out of everything, but who better to forgive the bites than those with the same taste for blood.
In the shit house, heavy metal pours from phonographs at breakfast. Punk is for tea. Soul wrenching documentaries and the campiest offerings of obscure genres flicker constantly from televisions. Kings, Dukes and Queens of other provinces wash up on our shores and sleep on our couches. Skateboard tricks are invented in our hallways.
The house itself is a modest ranch style place in a for-the-moment un-gentrified, mostly Latino west Chicago neighborhood. Owned by Bobby Southard and his wife K.
It’s actually quite a nice house. With an understated color scheme and mid-century modern furnishings. Walking through, you can sleuth the artifacts from the era of a woman’s touch. There’s a garlic press and a butcher’s block and both red and white wine glasses. There are relic hand towels strung by the kitchen sink.
K is a force of nature kind of lady, and is off on the eastern seaboard conquering the corporate world. And Bobby Southard is firmly in love but lonely and left behind, as the den mother to an odd collection of dude souls, two cats and a dog.
Bobby Southard is one of those that roll with the roll of the world. He is a former skateboarder (an activity the future will regard with the same respect as music composition and chess), who got a bit bent by all the breaks, and is now only able to perform mildly, utterly, fantastically impossible movements.
He makes his money by being a filmmaker in Chicago. Which is another way of saying some of your days are filled with deciphering and kowtowing to the just really fucking ridiculous desires of well-endowed academic institution clientele, and other days are filled being paid in popcorn by billion dollar corporations.
But, in Chicago, it’s also another way of saying that in the parenthesis of your day job, you get to do what you want. You get to make what you want. With really fucking talented people who do what they do because they can’t imagine doing anything else. They can’t imagine not howling at that damn moon.
On top of that, Bobby Southard is a DJ spinning social crews. There are Bar-B-Q’s, and skate ramp parties, and Christmas parties and Wednesday parties and good TV parties. The shit house is more comfortable when the air is stirred a bit. Countless people glide through and leave little vague impressions that pool and collage, then push past you forever gone.
Makes the place feels good on your skin.
Morris is the youngest of us. He has a concise physicality- short, but not un-powerful. The way he carries himself rhymes itself with what I remember of the forever there mountain folk, in the lost places of the world. Pieces of human steel built to move around the lay of things.
His eyes are almost always like pocketed red suns. He has a smoker’s cough that rattles the knots in wood. His clothes are dissolving around him. He speaks in phrases and fragments that need translation, but are of a quality that linger in your mind. His brain flies from concoction to concoction, invention to invention, with a speed that usually makes their realization unlikely. Though when he does create, the results are usually spectacular.
Morris is one of those kids released from the promise of academia and its pipe dream fuck sale of a subsidized life dedicated to the chase of comet tails. Shortly after which, you’re bomb dropped into a world of cutting your fingers off for someone else’s ascending profit line, at about ten bucks an hour.
And for Morris that precipitous fall accompanied a change of scenery literally as stark as a study abroad in a Central American beach community, where he afternoon hammocked with tea delivered by Rastafarians, to the minimum wage hustle of a Chicago winter life.
Morris likes to be by his lonesome. He is what I imagine it would be like to meet the modern Yeti: possessing a hyper intelligence that is diligently applied to a lifestyle of avoiding others. I see him cross the small space from his bedroom to the hall and back like I’m watching snippets from some shaky hand weekend camper’s home movie. There are more hints of his existence (thumping bass-lines behind closed doors, congressional hearings left playing on the television, spoons coated with peanut butter) than evidence.
He is comfortable in his life of capsules. But I also think he was wounded by love. He talks sometimes of a cocoa butter French/South African woman who survived the kind of things that learn you right quick about this mostly bullshit world.
The rare time he mentions her, I feel his words stretch out for some lost soft.
GOODMAN AND I HANG OUT ON porches when we should be asleep.
Goodman’s soul is in his handshake. He is directly from central casting for cowboys. His red hair is a Brylcreem casing, and he has a beard made of fire that could be storage for forks.
He was in the bike culture for years, which might be the closest thing that the urban setting has to the wild Wild West. Mixed with a healthy dose of Studio 64.
He consumes the world with an insatiable appetite. He drinks gallons of milk and fingers tubs of peanut butter while dreaming. When he’s on a slow roll, he can take baths in cheap beer and still make it to work in the morning. He and I steal each other’s last cigarette, but replace them with five the next day.
He was once in love but lost it. And it broke him for a while. But he came out of it some different beast; built himself new. On the porch he tells me countless stories of that journey, and I am happy for the map of another.
Oh, and there are usually women on those porches.
Because Goodman is good with the ladies. All kinds of lovely, lovely ladies. So, many of my summer nights have been a case study of seduction.
It goes like this: I head up from the basement to have a smoke. Goodman will already be out there, or will come in from the night, a stunning lass on his arm. All manner of assortment, usually in their mid-twenties.
We will sit and talk and drink and smoke usually until the entrance of sun. Most of the women are damn smart, some brilliant. I find out what their likes are like, where they came from on this globe and what their dreams are outside of their day job life.
Some will tell me they were adopted. Some will speak of their fathers. Some will softly talk of deaths and other styles of gone. Intimacy will hum and sing low on the slow hammock sway, safely in the railings of a quiet night.
I sometimes sort of always fall in love with all of them. Some cases are mild. Some will hang a lingering melody of lights in my brain that lasts for many days.
But the lollying stares and the sly slanted caresses, that I am not a part of, will gain momentum. Until there’s a point where I’m a guidance counselor at the prom.
And at the night’s end, some excuse will be found, or sometimes just a nod and goodbye. And Goodman and his lady will rejoin to the shake, moan and rattle. Which shakes, moans and rattles just over my head, as I lay in my basement bed with boots on.
(So… yeah. Headphones. Wine. Cold fucking showers.)
And then all those amazing women go poof. Maybe you catch a glimpse at coffee. Usually not. And it makes me say something close to a prayer, that my friend Goodman finds what he’s looking for.
The same something close to a prayer for us all, I guess.
I AM ONE THOUSAND YEARS OLD and pedaling a bicycle with a bell and a basket. I am riding the tail of a dragon through the night streets. Well, two dragons I suppose.
Goodman and Lupe are soul pals and they love the trouble. I too was born in the fold of trouble’s sweating arms, but I have to pick my spots these days. So sometimes, when they get the fever, I launch myself after them and toil in their wake.
Lupe is one of those women everyone secretly falls in love with. And that must be lonesome and exhausting. She has the kind of beauty that throws off your bearings like a day at sea. She has coffee skin with one cream. She has long lean limbs that sometimes cosine and sometimes flail. She has rigid hands with impossibly long fingers.
I can palm a basketball.
She says. Almost like it deserves an apology rather than a party.
She has been rumored to bribe carnival ride operators into giving once in a lifetime adventures, with only a pocket full of change and a dollop of Mary Jane.
Lupe carries sadness with her like tethered balloons. She, like Goodman, is clearly a bit lost, but still a damn good captain for this thing.
We swing around from scene to scene, pub to dead end pub. In some, the endless bands cursing at ceilings and the endless ocean of sweaty kids. In others, a collection of the longest lasting and the leftovers.
I am a long lasting leftover ham standing mid room in the last bar alive in town. Goodman and Lupe have each cordoned off a segment of the opposite sex, and are captivating their audiences. I am sipping a discounted beer (Goodman and Lupe always get discounted beers) instead of speaking.
I’m doing this, because my attempts at the barroom jabs and banter have gone something like this:
What grade are you in?
I say. To the baby faced, skin jeaned project leader at a leading marketing firm.
Wow that was a long time ago.
I say. To the sunken moon thighs and galaxy eyes of the woman who writes a popular dating blog. When she tells me the year she graduated college.
Is that really how you think of me?
Says the last woman next to me at the bar. A gorgeous, late forties, woman with one metric ton of style crammed into her short black hair, and two metric tons spilling out of her sequin lined blouse. Before she gathers her belongings and leaves with a slightly older, very muscular, dude with a short ponytail.
So yeah, it’s probably better for me to just stand mid room sipping discounted beer. I have never been good at these things, but at least when I was younger my insanity would stir the waters and make things move. Now I just have a tendency to pond.
As I float, I take lay of the land. Lupe has gone off on some other adventure. And in Goodman’s corner, he’s getting the what for by some very beautiful, very pissed, very young woman. He has a bemused look on his face like he’s in the audience, and not one of the actors of the scene.
When his beating is over he gives me a nod to the door. I follow him through a thousand parted seas, and we spill out the front. We glide home on our bikes, glad for the swarming warmth of summer. We land on the shit house porch and speak easy flowing words till light floods the edges.
In the morning the Chicago hipsters and their children head to be the first in line for restaurant breakfasts. The men are bald or slightly paunchy. A few are handsome devils, but most look like they eat chairs for a living.
The women are all stunning. They glow and sing timetables to their small perfectly nestled children. They dance in the sun with bright parasols. They hook their arms in the nook of love.
I turn to Goodman. He is wearing horrible, horrible sunglasses.
What the hell makes those guys special? Why can’t we have that?
I say. Goodman laughs and leans his head back against the shit house. I think his eyes are closed, but I can’t really see past the neon green, dark lens frames.
Because those dudes aren’t fucked up.
And damn, I think, if that’s not the exact goddamn thing.