NYC Journal #23 — Sunday 8/23/2020 — The Loner
He never does anything.
Work on some essays.
Get desperate for wine and dissipation. Feel the desperate panic swell in the gut and overtake and drag forward the shoulders.
Pack to go write in front of a bar. Include vitamin C and lithium orotate. But the computer battery needs charging and while it charges, the sun comes out. Better to just go sunbathing on the museum steps. Bring a bag so you could get a bottle of wine and some yogurt on the way back? Need garbage bags. No, better not to get wine and if you bring a bag he may go shopping and may get alcohol.
Walk down the street. Sunny. A white kid under five foot with pale flat calves under baggy blue sport shorts. Hair with a bit of a curl, down to his neck. Walking next to a light-skinned black kid a head taller.Thin, sculpted calves. His hair sweat-banded and fro-ing up and out on the top into a mushroom. T-shirt from some interactive, fancy-learning Academy. The shorter kid taps the other on his forearm. He spins around with a smart phone in front of his face. He starts off in one direction and then corrects and heads the other way. Off they go. Kids like 12 or 13 or something. The short one with a child’s voice. The taller one with a voice mellowing into the manhood that seems so far away but that will soon enough slam down like an iron gate, sealing them off from youth and its infinite promise.
Our hero puts on and takes off his green, wide-brimmed fisherman hat. He wants to get sun and air on his hair but not his nose. A delicate, never-ending fine-tuning. Reminds one of Heraclitus: “There is a harmony in the bending back (παλίντροπος palintropos) as in the case of the bow and the lyre.”
He is almost 43 today, but I see him now 24 walking through Berlin on a sunny fall day, putting on and taking off his oversized, bagging-down browns and blues sweater. I see him in shiny new blue jeans and his friend says, “man merkt das” (about how new they are). And I see her commenting about his need to get the sweater/nosweater-situation exactly right. A sunny soft shade-dappled, green-leafed, park-plazaed day. And then I see events I’d wish away if such wishing had any kind of a meaning.
The bikers for black lives are assembled again outside the museum steps. Must be a hundred of them. All right about 30 years old. Almost all black. Under the square brown tent there’s a table where they well shirts with a red black green flag with a medium-dark fist raised through it. On a light brown background. With a white-letter quote on the back. There’s a few white people there in the thick of that operation. And some arms Asian and white glinting tanned and untanned in the midday sun. But most everyone is black, and shining with a darker, deeper hue. That’s not how it was before.
In the sun you feel good. Nice to stretch out into the rays. The hurt in your gut that you’d cower over and that tells you stories you can’t reach fades away. Listen to silly, easy music. Cardigans. Cranberries. Miossec. Two tween girls sit across from each other in the shade of the museum entrance, chatting with their masks down. A thin (such thin arms!) Asian woman of let’s say thirty cuddles into one seam of her green canvas lawn chair. She’s set it up also in the shade of the museum entrance, ten or so feet from the girls. Once and a while she looks up and around. In a white T-shirt, with a long cap. Mask on or off — who can remember everything? Some kind of shady sleeping.
A tall thin, light-skinned black girl of about thirty with short natural hair, wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt and jeans that go halfway down her calves sits down in the sun ten or so feet from our sunbather. She leans against the same curving cement bench/retaining-wall that he’s lying on. Out of a big pursy she’d pulled a small white blanket to sit upon. Next to her sits the tiniest little wiener lap dog. She reads. Her face is oval and the bottom of her draw drops a tad beyond the jaw bone. She’s thin, but not like the Asian lady across the way. She has substantial hips and thighs. Not much in the way of breasts. Thin but not bone-thin arms. She rubs the bottom of her legs and her feet with oil or something.
When he’s done sunbathing, the man with lines that radiate out from his eyes when he laughs or smiles walks barefoot and still shirtless along the curving 1.5ft-wide bench/wall (one of like eight, each a foot or so taller than the last, with three feet of thick green grass between each pair — forming a terraced lawn/auditorium facing the glassed-in museum lobby). The curving terraced steps end in a six-foot retaining wall separated from Eastern Parkway by ten feet of white sidewalk. Well, on the far end that he’s at. On the other side, the wall is only a couple feet wide. Because the steps/plateaus are built into scooped-out land. Anyway, a sidewalk across from the side-wall that he’s walking up onto is the side-wall of a flight of wide steps that spill down next to the museum front. Those steps are traditional public-space type steps. Right now the lower steps are full of black people with bikes leaning against their legs and hands. He walks over to the shade created by the side-wall of those steps and leans into it while the sweat on his back evaporates.
You don’t want to put a shirt on while there’s still sweat on your back. That would wipe the sweat off. But you want to preserve all those oils. They are making vitamin-D. And they are anway supposed to be there, protecting and in some sense kissing your skin.
A very muscular (chest prominent, back V, waist chiseled) shirtless medium-dark black guy with short spiking hair, a square face, and slightly low-riding green athletic shorts is leaning back on the seat of his mountain bike. Some music begins from speakers underneath the topbar of his bike. A medium-build fit dark-skinned black girl in biker shorts and a black-with-white-lettering Black Lives Matter T-shirt smiles and nods towards him with both fists up and shaking with the music in front of her helmeted head. Dreads flow out of the helmet? Or is that someone else?
He goes to the grocery story after all. Buys chicken sausage, onion, garbage bags and a 22 oz 9.9% stout, which is like four regular beers. But it’s better than buying a bottle of wine. And he’d thought it was a 6.6% IPA, which would’ve been almost reasonable. The girl in front of him is like thirty or forty with pale skin and blond crinkling hair. Blue jean shorts. A T-shirt. He’s on one set of red feet. She’s on the next, six feet ahead of him. Behind him is a thick-waisted black girl, standing on yet another set of red feet that also suggest everyone stay six feet apart. The girl in front of him says he can go ahead of her. He says, “what?” She repeats the offer, adding, with a nod to the plastic basket that’s bending down her left side, that she’s got a lot of stuff. He advances, and sees that it’s the kiosk with small expensive stealable things (medicines, condoms, etc), and which is supposed to be for people with only a few items. Then he understands.
The girl (maybe thirty) working there is Spanish, with long curling black hair. She’s about 5’7” and a little wide and pudgy. Her white soft cotton shirt shows some cleavage and some chunk. She says, “double bagged?” and he says, “Yes”, and only later processes what she’d said. He’d said “Yes” out of guilt. He was admitting that he had to buy plastic bags because he’d not brought bags with him because he’d not planned on going shopping because he’d not meant to buy alcohol. And now he’s tilting a very tall beer so it can fit under the cut-out rounded square at that bottom of the plastic that protects her from his breath.
He walks home, having spoken to no one.
By the ice cream truck parked on Washington Ave, a tall, thin, pretty-limbed light-skinned black girl had said something to a couple chubby white women (like 30s), one pushing a stroller in front. She’d said something and gestured towards the tent where they sold T-shirts and pushed the cause. The lady with wide-flowing light-brown, slightly-crinkled hair had smiled, made a slight yoga my-Atman-salutes-yours palms-touch-in-front-of-chest bow, and said something back to her. A something that I guess communicated, “I support the idea, but no thanks / not right now to whatever you want me to do.”
A few blocks after the white and black boys came two men of about thirty, one white and one black. The white guy was like 6+ft, with a rangy, schlubby build. He was pale with long medium-brown hair. The black guy had hair too short to see beneath his turned-back cap. He was maybe 5’6”. Skinny, with shoulders strangely high and pole-like. His rear also stuck out at a slightly wrong angle. His calves were very thin. The white guy wore baggy athletic shorts and a T-shirt. The black guy wore white denim shorts and a light-colored cotton print-design collared short-sleeve shirt. The white guy’s multi-colored mask was up. The black guy’s was down around his neck. They spoke animatedly about something or other up a few paces from the guy who never talks to anyone.
You’ll have to quit drinking.
The sign is the jangling panic swirling from your gut out all through you, knocking your shoulders from side to side and dizzying your mind. The sign is the desperation, longing, dread, and panic that swamps you when the thought of drink/don’t-drink is broached.
And how these deranged butterflies carry the process forward.
Quit drinking; take up conversation. There’s worse sentences.
Author: Jacob John Jingle Heimer Smith
Editor: Bartleby Willard
Producer: Amble Whistletown
Copyright: Andrew M. Watson
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