I’m supposed to be working. But I don’t feel like working. So I’m going to write you a story.
The current setting is my kitchen table in South Philadelphia. (South Philly.) I have next to me a collection of paint tubes. My newest colors are as follows: Yellow Green, Brilliant Rose. Before that, it was: Lemon Yellow, and Cadmium Orange Hue. I like these colors. And I’ve learned how to use them better.
I am mostly alone.
At the corner of my tiny kitchen table which I purchased cheaply at Ikea, a year ago, is a copy of Dostoyevsky’s Notes From Underground. On top of that is a little jar of paint thinner. Next to a coffee cup full of cigarette ashes. Next to a water glass of dried up paint. At the opposite end of the table is a plastic cup with pens, Sharpies and watercolor brushes. There is also a bottle of sunscreen on the kitchen table.
I used the sunscreen when I marched with protesters for the first two days of the Democratic National Convention. During that time, I saw some of my favorite journalists on the scene. One of those persons was a girl who hosts a political show, watched by maybe 50 or 100 people. I don’t really know. All I know is that I am one of them. Well, I was.
I saw her at the protest as she was filming and taking pictures of the protesters. I walked up to her.
“Hello,” I said.
“I watch your show.”
“Oh,” she distractedly responded, “okay, cool.”
We made small-talk. Or I did. It was awkward, to say the least. I ended up walking away, feeling like maybe I should just go back to my apartment to be alone with myself.
Instead, I kept marching. I haven’t watched her show, since….
Underneath this machine are pieces of paper, mostly my bills. I use them to line my kitchen table when I am painting with oils. I place the canvas on the table, leaning it against a big steel pot my mother gave me for when I moved in here to live by myself. Each time I paint I soak the canvas underneath the water faucet, which is broken. I like the way the oil moves across the canvas when everything is wet. It feels good to paint that way.
I’ve learned that the Lemon Yellow, the Cadmium Orange Hue, and the Yellow Green aren’t very absorbent. Or to put in another way, they don’t transpose over certain colors very well. The Brilliant Rose, however, mixes well with others.
I, on the other hand, do not. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.
Anyway, the original story I had wanted to tell was about a time in my past. My previous history, you might say.
I was younger, of course. And I cared very little about things that matter more to me today. Like, for instance, I would have never marched in a protest movement, when I was a younger lad. I would have never painted. And I certainly would have never gone up to a girl I didn’t know to talk to her about her political bent.
I would’ve stayed in my room, alone. I would’ve been watching TV. My favorite station was the Weather Channel. I don’t know why. But I liked the maps. I liked knowing what was happening in the world. It made me dream and think of something else, besides where I was and who I was or who I wasn’t or what I didn’t like about myself and what I was becoming — if that makes sense. I was stuck in New Jersey. Or so I thought. Really, my imagination was lacking.
Today, I don’t feel like being alone is a bad thing. It’s not such a bad thing at all.
The story. Remember?
To keep your attention — if that’s the case here — I’ll make it quick and easy. I was young, basically a drunk, had alcoholic friends. We traveled in our hometown in ways that would rival a street gang. Suburban white kids with chips on our shoulders. Cigarettes. Marijuana. Cases of cheap beer.
Now that I think about it, it almost resembles nihilism. What was is it? Paganism? Shit, I don’t know. We didn’t give a fuck about anything. Maybe we were hedonists. At least when we were constrained to the bubbles that we had built and constructed around our lives.
We smoked weed on the streets at night. We played beer pong in basements. We went out on the streets looking for beer to steal from open garages. We drank after high school on Wednesdays, and I’d sit eating dinner with my parents later on, on those nights, giggling and belching. 16 and drunk.
“Pass the gabba-ghoul!”
Frozen in time we were, yes. How romantic. I’m getting to the story. Just wait.
Okay, fine. Here it is.
We’re leaving a Sixers game, at the Wachovia Center. (It isn’t the Wachovia Center, anymore. Now it’s the Wells Fargo Center.) Two of my closest friends are with me. The driver is a friend of one of those people. His name is Reginald. In the passenger’s seat is Noro, a fiddler’s descendant. To the left of me, in the backseat, is Moses. Beard and all.
Anyway, we’re all really drunk.
Reginald’s mother had had two box-seats given to her for the Sixers game, from her company. The place where she worked. She gave them to her son. You know how it goes. We took full advantage. Or at least Noro did. (Moses and I had sat in regular seats.)
“Why’d you drink so much?” Reginald asked Noro, after the game.
Noro responded, “Because everything is burning.” He hiccuped. We drove off into the night.
Moses and I were discussing briefly the finer points of political expediency in his homeland. Capital H. He was a Hero, he wanted to stress. And I told him that the Red Sea was the Dead Sea. So cram it, and take your scrolls out to the abyss. Drown ‘em in Adam and Eve, you combustible hill-billy! HAVE AT THEE!
We grappled in the backseat. The car was speeding toward New Jersey, crossing the Delaware River on the Ben Franklin Bridge. Noro hung his head out the passenger’s side window and heaved. The mechanical world sprayed to the back window all the beer and meat and chips and pretzels and mustard-sauce that Noro had ingested and imbibed. He was finished, moaning aloud, “The Empire is Doomed.”
To see this was nothing short of hysterical madness. Moses and I stopped our debate and instead threw punches at each other’s arms, shoulders and ribcage. We had never seen anything so damn funny in all our lives. Like I said, I was 16.
From Reginald, “Aw, man!”
(Uproarious laughter from the backseat.)
“THIS IS MY MOM’S CAR.”
Well, shit. We rode it on home.
First stop was a Burger King. Though I no longer remember why, and what for. Probably to take a piss, for the rest of us. (Can I say piss?) Reginald — whom I’ll now call Reggie — Reggie had a gallon of water. And he was dumping it across the side of the car where the chunks of expectorate and decay were strewn like Egyptian hieroglyphs. To be fair, Noro wasn’t the only person to have ever vomited after a Phillies, Sixers, Flyers or Eagles game. (Or before.) No. But he was the first person I’d ever seen do it while suspended mid-air over the Delaware River. Back then, it was a magical time.
And in some ways, it still is.
Anyway. Back to the breach. We were like stoned sailors, stepping out as stowaways in reverse. Entangled in the entropy of our times.
“My mom’s gonna be pissed,” said Reggie.
We got into the car and sniggered. I breathed heavily, a short breath onto the glass window, from the other side of where Noro had blurpled his curdled insides. Fog enveloped the molecules directly on the surface of the glass. With my index finger, I drew an ‘A’, then circling it. The symbol for anarchy.
When we got back to Reggie’s house, he parked and hustled out of the driver’s seat to race up to the side of his lawn, his parents’ lawn — it was their house. Don’t forget. And he yanked the water hose off of its concrete perch, turned the spigot loose, and drug the thing down the lawn and over to the car. Hosing the whole thing down, and us with it, he yelled into the night: “SCRAM! BEAT IT!”
From up in the window, I could see his poor mother. Or wait. She was up in the window. I was down in the car. Moses was grabbing at my sides, laughing. And Noro was crawling to his chariot of fire — an Old, Beat-up one. From 1992.
It was a chaotic scene. Something like mischief in a neighborhood filled with ghosts.
Noro steered us ahead, carefully piloting the automobile a few blocks away, to where Moses laid his head at night. Later on in life, he’d sleep with a semi-automatic pistol at his bedside, carrying a badge during the day. He’d go to Iraq, too. To liberate the Iraqi people from some sort of monster-madman, which still seems to multiply like a triple-headed Medusa in a society gone to the dogs. Well, as they say. At least. NOT YET.
Out front of the house where we had spent so much time as kids, and would continue, hence, forward from this point of time of which I speak — and am speaking — Noro told me that he wouldn’t be able to drive us home. I would have to do it, he said.
“You gotta drive us back, man.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Fear not,” I replied. Nervously and anxiously, I steered us home in the old chariot that had doused and enabled so many memories, fore and aft. Onward! As always.
Noro had his head on the passenger’s side door, with the window all the way down. The wind hitting his face like fallen angels in despair. No, like angels in revolt. Sure.
God, what a time to be alive.
“You’re doin’ great,” he said. “You’re doin’ fine…”
That was the first time I’d ever driven home like that, in my life.
And I got us home.
Oh yeah. The Sixers lost.