Tuesday, September 24, 2013


This is the story about how I put Des Moines, Iowa behind me.

Perhaps someday someone who doesn't know me will read that first sentence and think that this is the story of me triumphantly leaving my hometown for new exciting adventures.

It is not.  I am not from Iowa.  I was only there for a weekend, and, in fact, there's nothing particularly bad about Des Moines.  So, stranger (possibly a stranger from the FUTURE!), I hope I have assisted you in properly setting your expectations.

It was a working weekend, the kind where I would be forced to wake up early and sit at a computer for several hours at a time with no hope for a bathroom or cigarette break, or lunch.  The other guy working the event, my competition as it were, would try to keep us awake (we couldn't drink coffee, no; coffee was a diuretic, and again, no bathroom breaks) by joking around and asking questions about all the stupid shit that people were trying to sell, like the hat signed by late 70's rock group Foreigner, or why the shirt once owned by Poison frontman Brett Michaels included a photo of, presumably, the people that had the display case made for it with Brett wearing said shirt, and more importantly, what anyone purchasing this useless piece of memorabilia would do with the photograph.  Would they take it out?  Would they put themselves in the image?  Or, more likely, would they just leave it as an eternal reminder of an event that they never actually experienced?  Fran and Steve, as I named them, would inadvertently be a part of someone's life, possibly forever, for no other reason than they met some aging dude from a hair band and procured a shirt he owned.  I love America.  I hate America.

Despite all of this the work was an ordeal that left me physically and emotionally drained, and though there is certainly nothing particularly wrong with Des Moines, the only thing I wanted was to put the city to my back and get home to Brooklyn, where things, well, maybe didn't make sense, but at least moved with a strangeness I found familiar. It was in this haggard, yet determined state that I boarded the plane in DSM departing to O'Hare and connecting soon after to La Guardia, followed immediately by my goddamn bed.

Let me explain a bit about my travel habits, as some people are not entirely aware of exactly how awful air travel is:  No checked bags.  Ever.  Am I leaving town for 2 months?  Fine, I'll do laundry and stuff a duffel bag with t-shirts. I don't care so long as the second I touch down I get to leave the airport and go somewhere else. Anywhere else.  In the security line I've got anything previously in my pants pockets stuffed into my jacket pockets, my jacket under my arm, my belt undone, and my computer bag unzipped with my free hand on my laptop for easy removal, poised to dump everything in a plastic cart and be on the other side of the security gate in under 30 seconds if I didn't have to wait for every other asshat in the world that somehow forgets that his keys, cell phone, lighter, dog tags, lucky thimble, and about $30,000 in spare change was in his pocket until immediately before he has to go through the metal detector.  I am wearing socks; you have no idea how many people, women mostly, can be found in bare feet at the security checkpoints in airports. It's a special brand of disgusting, seeing people lined up with their bare feet touching the dirty airport floor.  I have my seat booked as close to the exit as I can manage. To summarize, I am a master of travel, mostly because I hate airports, and generally anyone in them that happens to engage me.

It my hurried irritation I boarded the plane.  They put me in the last boarding group.  I'm not sure why, possibly because I purchased a discounted ticket, but I actually suspect it had something to do with the $9.50 fee I elected not to pay while checking in at the electronic kiosk that offered me to board early.  It's fine; I'm in the front of the plane; I'm ready to crack open my book and ignore the in-flight announcements; I'm ready to drink my complimentary ginger ale; I'm ready to mouth "fuck you" out the window as I ascend like a newly reborn phoenix over the midwestern city.

This is what I was thinking about while I shuffled toward my seat, as people ahead of me found difficulty in putting a bag on a shelf and getting out of the aisle.  Ignoring this for now, I located my assigned seat, and, as I raised my bag to the overhead compartment directly above it, something strange happened: A young man, coming from the back of the plane toward me, bag in hand, stopped short and looked at me with an angry pout and sigh that wordlessly said to me "I can't believe you just did that.  You took my space in the compartment."  There was no mistaking it, and for a second my mind raced through scenarios wherein I was in the wrong and that space actually should have gone to him.  Despite the implications of this missive, I do at least want to believe that people are basically good and reasonable.  Failing this I was forced to conclude that this man, appearing some scant years older than me, was simply feeling entitled. To the overhead space. Directly above my assigned seat.  Meeting his pouty expression, so near tantrum, I said to him with a calm voice, with as little derision as possible, "Don't give me that fucking look."  His pout slackened, eyes widened, into a look somewhere between shock and fear, and as he hustled back to his seat, I knew that he was going to New York.  You see, while everyone is infinitely complex and a unique little snowflake and whatever bullshit people say to make each other feel special, there are, in point of fact, 2 types of New York personalities.  One that feels entitled to relative convenience if not luxury because they live in the epicenter of world culture.  The other is completely aware that no one deserves a goddamn thing in this world.  It's kind of odd that the two somehow manage to live such seamless lives in such a small area, but that's just part of the mystery that is New York, I suppose.

The next hour or so is the same as every flight you have ever had, because every flight is exactly the same.  I am not seated next to an attractive person; I am not seated next to a good conversationalist with interesting things to say.  I have the same nondescript person I've already forgotten about who wants to ignore me as equally as I do him, thankfully.  I have the same nondescript cheerful flight attendant offering me a cheerful single-serving soda and a cheerful bag of pretzels or peanuts, and somewhere in front the first-class passengers are having the exact same experience with, I suppose, better drinks and more comfortable seats, though I'm not sure who would pay extra to fly first class for an hour or so from Des Moines to Chicago.

Descending to Chicago the plane hovers through this layer of cloud that appears only a foot thick or less.  In one moment this cloud cover was the only thing visible - that kind of cottony layer that looks like you can walk on it; the kind I saw on my first flight and thought that maybe heaven was really up there, somewhere - the next moment I was seeing how thin it was, now well past the point of believing in that sort of thing, but still marveled at how something so fragile still looked like I could step out and walk on it.  You have no idea how much I still want to step out of a plane and walk on a cloud.

The world below is filled with the vast farmland that surrounds the greater Chicago area.  From experience, there is not much else to Illinois.  Or Indiana.  Or Ohio.  I could go on for about ten or fifteen states, but you get the idea.  Anyway, this is the main point I was getting to with all of this: I look at these farms, these perfectly carved out little squares of green, with the occasional tree-lined street separating them, dotted in the middle with a pond, or cut asymmetrically by a stream snaking through it all, and it strikes me that from up here how beautiful it is compared to the nearby suburbia.  Then, almost immediately thereafter, I think about how it all used to be great plains, just a huge endless sea of grass with ground sloths and smilodon and mastodon, and later buffalo and wolves, and now none of those things.  I love America. I hate America.

I found myself at that very moment yearning, actually yearning, to be on a horse on that ancient plain, pounding fire into the grass as I chased down some great beast.  I was on my way to my home in a concrete metropolis, and a voice in my head asked me what the hell I was doing with my life with a loudness that for one harrowing moment rose above the cacophony of my inner monologue. I wish I could have answered it.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


As the sun begins to set, my gathered friends quiet themselves into a somber silence, their drinks hanging at their sides. Most of them are thinking of what to say, or waiting to see who would speak first.  Still, it creates this kind of illusion of solemnness that belies what is actually just an awkward moment.  It's beautiful in the most hilarious way possible.

There should probably be a bit of a back-story to this; I just need to figure out where to begin, exactly, and there's no way it will be a short story and make the kind of sense I want it to, so the beginning is key. I suppose I had dated Denise for about 3 years before I asked her to move in with me.  This was abnormal for me - I was much more the type to rush headlong into a serious relationship only to find out that I had, let's say, erred in my assumption about its potential for longevity. I guess it's fair to say that it wasn't that I knew Denise was exactly what I was looking for in a girl, rather it was that I had a vast wealth of experience with what I very much did not want, and Denise did not embody any of those traits.  It wasn't until a couple months later that I realized something odd was taking place.  We didn't fight, not drag-out screaming matches anyway, and not passive aggressive cattiness that some couples adopt when they're not comfortable with drag-out screaming matches.  Our disagreements involved what the best superpower to have would be, and what the victor of fights involving randomly paired dinosaurs would be.  We challenged each other intellectually without exhausting each other emotionally, and that had never happened to me before.

The love came later.  People will argue until they're blue in the face about whether or not love at first sight exists.  I myself am a firm believer in it, and would say that before I met Denise I had probably experienced the phenomena at least twice.  The thing about love is that it's remarkably easy to fall in love with someone entirely wrong for you.  In fact, I would say that it's much easier than falling in love with someone with whom you can actually forge a strong relationship, but this could be colored by my own experiences.  What I'm getting at is that there are people out there that feel hard and fast.  Their feelings come out of the gate like a thoroughbred, and they race right into your heart, and they make you wonder how you could have gone without that feeling.  It's not til later that you realize that their feelings are equally intense about most everything.  It's not that the love you experienced isn't real, or that they don't love you just as much, it's just that they hate anchovies with the same intensity, or their parents, or the way that you didn't call back right away. 

With Denise I always felt comfortable, and that I was having a good time, but that quickness of intensity never showed up.  We dated.  We conversed.  We flirted. We took our time, and I'm not saying that's the right way to go, but after a number of failed attempts it was really nice to just naturally ease into something that didn't involve me getting ahead of myself.  She was probably the first person I dated where I never questioned if I was making a mistake, and yet it took 3 years for the rent at my damn apartment to get to the point where I couldn't stay in my convenient, magical one bedroom anymore, and a plan of cohabitation was hatched.

Everyone tells you that things change when you move in with your significant other and that's true, because why wouldn't they change and if you weren't looking for something to change then why would you bother moving in, really?  Anyway, yeah, things change.  There were more soaps in the bathroom than I knew existed, for one, and I couldn't really stay up until five in the morning playing video games anymore.  She liked the sink to be empty by the end of the night so I took up cooking to make sure she was responsible for washing them.  I'd still walk around in my underwear, and occasionally so did she.  I think that's what made our compromises so great.  She helped me grow up a little, and I got her to be a little bit more immature when it didn't matter.  Still, even maturity of the highest order could not have prepared me for one compromise.

I'll preface this by stating, firmly, that I'm not a hoarder.  I'm no pack rat.  When something has ceased being useful or stops functioning properly it is extricated from my life.  There's never been a lot of room for storage anywhere I have lived, so it's just the way I have been over the years.  That said, there are items in this world that, and I firmly believe this, have this sort of symbiotic aura imbued in them, and when they come into someone's possession they just radiate sentimentality.  

There was this pair of jeans that I had since 1996.  Seriously.  They didn't even fit me back then since I was about a foot shorter than I am now.  Still, they had been with me through middle school, high school, college, and life.  They had taken me to see Daft Punk in a California desert.  They had stood with me on a bar I built for my house in college belting out some early '90s jam at the top of my lungs to a bunch of drunk 20-year-olds. They were with me when I got fired from my first job, and when I got drunk off of bourbon at my favorite bar that night and got locked in when I passed out in a booth at the back.  They were faded, ripped all the right places, and later many of the wrong ones, so much so that I couldn't really comfortably wear them out in public anymore.  Denise liked it at first when I would wear them around the house on Saturdays; I would wear them while I cleaned the apartment, but after awhile she would say with increasing frequency that I really needed to get rid of them.

It took a lot of convincing.  Allegedly I went through all seven stages of grief trying to keep them, but then she said something to me which led me to that seventh step of acceptance.  She explained that I couldn't really wear them outside anymore, and that they had become clean the apartment jeans, and that was a cruel mockery of what they used to be.  I've had friends suggest to me that this was a clever tactic on her part; a cunning use of words to placate and manipulate me to giving up my favorite jeans.  I didn't see that at all.  I saw someone who truly understood what it took for me to care about something inanimate like I did, and someone who truly understood me at my most sentimental.  I know she wanted them gone, but I also know that she really loved me, and by extension loved those jeans.  It was what I needed at the time, but I did have one small caveat, which she happily agreed to.

So, here we are, drinks in hand, somberly, slightly buzzed with a campfire burning in the middle.  A few of my best friends appear sad, and at least one of them isn't entirely faking it.  They talk in whispers, carefully glancing at me, some not sure whether to laugh or offer sincere condolences.  It's kind of exactly the mood I was going for when I finally break the silence.  "They have carried me as far as they could, and have stood strong against the tides of my life, embracing me in both good times and bad.  Now that their strength has failed and their frayed body lies at my feet, we must not weep in sorrow, but revel in the spirit they embodied.  Today we send them off as the warriors that they truly were, as is the custom of all true denim.  Rejoice with me in the passing of these jeans from this world, until the day I don them again in the halls of Valhalla."

The jeans sit in a cardboard boat lined with kindling I spent the weekend decorating like a viking longship. The torch is lit from the bonfire, and everyone in attendance takes turns passing it until it reaches Denise's hands, who then bestows it to me with the gravitas of a queen.  Kneeling I light the boat aflame and push it out into the lake.  My friends stand behind me on shore to watch, many of them holding their beers aloft in some kind of salute.  Denise puts her arm in mine and leans her head against my shoulder as the burning boat drifts over the placid waters.  I actually feel a chill stir in me, but it's replaced by the warmth that comes when you do something ridiculous with your friends.

I haven't really been cleaning the house as much since we decided to give my jeans a viking funeral.  I really hope Denise hasn't found the ring I hid behind the nightstand.