Extraordinary stories from everyday life on the edge of the world

Stories

the best thing about us is the people we know.
 

Prospect Heights // Friday night

Amorina Pizzeria, 624 Vanderbilt, 8.30pm I tell [Will] that in my opinion, New York City is no place to be a rebel.

He's not sure that I'm right.

"It's a great place for weirdos," I say. "No matter what makes you weird, if you come to New York, you'll find a place where you fit in. Where you fit in perfectly, in fact."

He agrees. No matter what unlikely combination of weird penchants and character traits you boast, there's a whole sect of them in New York for you to hang out with, he says.

"But if what you really like," I say, "is being the different one--the one who shakes things up--New York is the worst place ever. No matter what you do or what you say, you can't shock anyone. They've seen it all before."

This is where he diverges. You can always find people who think the opposite of you, he argues, if what you're going for is shock value.

"You can offend them," I said, "but you can't surprise them. Nobody's going to be surprised by anything, even if it's something they've never seen before. It's the nature of New York that anything can happen here."

We were shoehorned against another tiny two-top, inches from the front door, where people wearing long down coats and tiny eyeglasses were trying to wedge their strollers in so that they could greet the people they knew. Will says "That's Brooklyn." We are eating pizza that tastes like dessert, and salad that tastes wonderfully bitter. Whatever else the East Coast cities excel in--and there is much--eating greens is not one of them.

- - -

Woodland, 242 Flatbush, 10.51pm

"Can I buy you a Manhattan at Woodland?" he asks. The answer would have been yes after the direct object, anyway, but Will has said this place makes the best Manhattan in Brooklyn. Which one simply must have, if only for the pleasure of repeating this phrase later.

It smells inside like French fries. In a really good way.

The drinks are fancy as hell; the specialty menu has a long, grandiloquent description of the bar's name on the front page. The thing we're drinking isn't even called a Manhattan; here, it's called a Woodsman, and there is no grenadine in it at all, and it tastes like the way a good aftershave smells when the right guy is wearing it, and before I know it I'm slapping the wood of the bar and telling Will all the gory details of the last time...details I don't tell anybody anymore because why fucking bother? Everybody's got details.

But Will's a good listener and he just went through round two of a breakup, so he's just the person to hear this out. Note to self: never confide heartbreak stories to anyone but a well-evolved, compassionate, hopeful and recently heartbroken friend who is slightly older than you. Probably it also helps if they play for the same team as you.

The woman sitting next to Will keeps looking over at us, or maybe it's just at him--her focus was clearly long gone before we came in, so it's hard to tell. But when I pull out my iPod to take a photo, she reaches her arm across Will's chest and says "Dyou wantme to doit?"

"Oh, no, that's okay," I say. "I'm terribly vain--I have to do it myself or I won't like it."

"No. No." She fixes me with a very positive gaze. "I'm an art director."

What is there to do, then? "Okay, you're hired," I say, and give her the iPod. She takes the photo and points to me and says "You look hot." Actually we both look foreshortened and my widow's peak is giving me the look of an overplucked poodle.

"Are you guys related?" she asks, sketching a line in the air between us with her index finger. "You look alike."

"No, we're friends," one of us says--I forget whom.

This seems to affront her. "How do you know each other?"

"We worked together," I answer.

We learn that her name is Katie.

The bartender comes up and asks us how the drinks are.

"Great," we both say.

He stops with a wry smirk on his face. "Are you sure? Because the truth is, I'm not sure I did them right. But if you say they're okay..."

We look at each other. "This is my first time here," I say, "so I have no standard of comparison. But it tastes great to me."

He gives us each a handslap, the kind that ends with interlocking fingersnaps...there surely must be a name for this gesture, by now...and moves down the bar.

The woman beside Will points. "This guy is thbest bartender," she says. "Dyouguy scomehere a lot?"

We both answer; I say I don't live here, Will says he's been here but never seen this guy.

"Where dyou live?" she asks me.

Will looks at me and I can see in his eyes, even though he's smiling, that at this moment he'd rather I didn't go into the whole song-and-dance.

"California," I say.

She wants to know where. I tell her. She's been there before. Maybe I looked skeptical; she tells me a second time, immediately after the first, that's she's been there before.

"Swhat are you doinhere?"

"I'm here on a project" slips out of my mouth; I quickly amend it, "I'm visiting." When she asks what kind of project, I tell her I'm a writer.

"That sgreat." She's practically leaning over Will's lap now, to get her point across. "You get bonespoints for that, because being a writersgreat. Becausyou know what? You can do that anywhere. Anywhere you want. Wherever you go, you have the ability to just..."

Her eyes blaze glassily, causing me to wonder if she's going to use her mutant powers to psionically summon a storm inside the bar.

"...Disappear."

"Yeah," I say. "That's true. I do like that about it." I'm also starting to like Katie, the art director. I feel like she gets me.

She then asks Will what he does, which turns into a cross-examination of his familiarity with the neighborhood. The topic of a local sushi place somehow surfaces. "I was at Sushi Samba--do you know Sushia Samba? Sushi Samba...it's right down..." Will submits to several ablutions of the words before he escapes to the bathroom.

"Swhat's your project about?"

I still can't tell what she's looking at--me, or something directly behind my forehead. I tell her I'm going around the country, interviewing interesting people that I know.

She pauses, with the same look as when she announced that she's an art director.

"What's so great about him?" she asks, lurching her shoulder in the direction of the bathroom.

- - -

Soda Bar, 629 Vanderbilt, 11.31 pm

Will has a date tomorrow with a guy who once (in Madrid) dated a guy that Will once dated (in Tijuana).

For whatever reason, this reminds me of the Fergus Falls connection--from manager at McDonald's in podunk Minnesota to third wave coffee specialist in hipsterville District, and the weirdness that the connecting thread could be just me. Or just him. Wandering along, doing whatever we do without knowing why.

"How is this one country?" Will yelps.

I want to say something about states' rights, that make it possible to maintain idiosyncrasy and order at the same time. But I'm not sure it's true. The shots of Old Overholt offered to us by the Woodland bartender (the best bartender, you'll recall) are in full effect. The last thing I need to start holding forth on is something I only know about through hearing my dad hold forth on it.

"I think that's just the United States," I say. "That's what makes it weird, and big, and...what it is."

I really hope it works, I tell him. (I can hear that I'm getting very loud.) I really hope this thing goes, that I can keep doing it. I'm not afraid of car wrecks or being hard up for money or anything except that I might have to stop.

"You won't have to stop," he says, not with that ponderous, spiritual vibe that I appreciate but can sometimes get me twisted. He says it with almost a shrug, the matter-of-fact delivery that really means something, when it comes from a well-educated, formidably talented man with too much social conscience to let him be content in a high-paying job of neutral effect.

"People should want to pay us," I say, looking for something to slap in emphasis. (We are seated on a low leather couch; there's nothing in sight but my own knee.) "It shouldn't be that hard for people like us

"A life that's honest and aware and intentional. It's so rare to find a company that sells shit, but also cares about the people who make things. That has that integrity."

- - -

Will's apartment, 12.50am

It's funny how tipsiness just pulls you down into bed, as easily as if someone else was doing it. This makes me reflect that I would hate to have a drunken one-night stand. For one thing, you have to pee so badly. For another, everything would be dulled. Even tonight I've been thinking "I'll remember this, I'm sure I'll remember this, it's too important for me to forget."

Feeling these thoughts fight to the surface of my consciousness reminds me of being six years old and engulfed by ocean waves.

Earlier tonight, Will said that he has always had reservations about saying certain things to me. Things about relationships. The Christian thing made him reluctant to talk about the gay thing.

I told him that I understand that, and if it makes him uncomfortable to talk about such things with me, that's okay. But uncomfortable is not how I feel about hearing it from him.

"Okay," he said, pausing. He looked at me very directly. "But how can you not?"

It was a good question, of course. I had no really good answer. The only true one was to say,

"I just don't. It's not how I feel. I believe certain things, but I also care about you, and I care about the things that are important to you. If I had to not be friends with everyone who believes something different from me..." Old Overholt prevented me from articulating the point any further.

But I did manage to say, later, that the frustrations Will has about being a gay man who likes to camp and carpenter and wants to raise a couple kids in a house outside the city are frustrations I relate to, as an evangelical Christian girl who wants to travel and hang out with the outsiders everywhere and maybe never settle down to raise a couple kids in any house anywhere.

"I don't actually think I'm that different," Will says. "I'm just part of a majority that the media doesn't cover. I'm invisible because I'm not sensational."

And to think I almost never got to hear that, because he thought my Christianity meant I wouldn't want to hear it.

Fuck anything that keeps me from being friends with someone. Fuck any expectations of speech or behavior or whatever.

"I'm seeing a new side of you," Will says, as we stumble back through his front door, "and it's really beautiful."

And I wonder what the hell he was seeing before. Was it really something I was putting forth, or something he was prejudiced to see? Why didn't he see this side before? How can I make sure others see it too, and not have to go through five years of reservation and distance and gradual reunion before they can see it?

Or maybe that's exactly what makes it beautiful?

Anyway, I'm glad. I'm so grateful, too. I'm seeing a side of Will that I knew was there, and I'm so damn grateful that I get to see it now.