Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Expectations Are Over-Rated

Using my fork, I wiped the ketchup from our plates into the sink. It was a lot of ketchup. She loved ketchup. I wanted to give her a lot of what she loved even though a meal in need of ketchup isn't impressive, but what is anymore....we've been together for three years.

During the first two years we lived in a "bougie" mint highrise on the west side of midtown. The 27th floor to be exact, with a view of the Hudson. Goldman Sachs' new building in Jersey City would twinkle through rust-smeared Rothko sunsets, fading to horns and an elevated sense of what's right. Sunsets tend to give you that feeling that everything’s right in the world. Her face would glow, her eyes would sparkle and she'd push her tits unconsciously up, tucking in her arms to rest on the window frame. She was 19 at the time. She should've smoked cigarettes. To purse warm smoke into the evening's chill from 300 feet just makes visual sense; movie scene sense. It'd be the materialization of relief, a translucent fondant flying away from its being against a black night.  I would watch from the wicker kitchen table at the edge of our bed just seeing dark blue past her. Fucking night, there's nothing like it in New York. It's like looking out on miles and miles of ocean; its beauty comes from not knowing what's hidden amongst it and that there's endless opportunity in its exploration. She was happy of course, she just didn't know how much happier she could be. As pressed putty wears the print on which it's placed, the knowledge she absorbed and admired, she would eventually mirror in her life's pinballing.

Two years later now, I'm across the country, this time, only 90 feet off the ground. A move made solely for the purpose of her initial familial interests. I now however find myself alone 95% of the time. The size of the apartment hasn't changed, just the weather and the personalities. In New York we'd discussed the new studio in LA as if it were to be our sanctuary. We would share, love and live it as if a starter home where pleasure was precedent and our future nostalgia would be our rekindling of these coming cramped years. Every month since my trek across country, since my farewell party with friends and family, my toothbrush here has stood alone. An empty promise of a partnered crusade, my mind's left to wander. How could someone's love change so quickly, and why did I take such a chance moving my life away from family and friends if all I'm to learn is ugly.  To love someone, that’s not exactly hard. To trust someone, to believe in them and their eyes, that’s something else entirely.  Sometimes you're in the audience at a comedy club and you catch the talent's eye.  Sometimes you're 21, and the talent asks you stay after the show with your girls and drink.  I've been 21 before.  It's not a time to move across the country and settle down. 

Looking down into the sink, I can see the wasted ketchup and bits of Tyson spicy chicken fillets she didn't eat just swirling at the base of the drain, losing their skin. I spit into the sink and wiped my mouth on my arm. She stands next to the bed not looking back. She'd finally come, out of guilt.  She stands facing the windows with her arms folded, looking out at another glorious sunset, just this time it's Santa Monica's. I don't think she ever thought she'd be here. She stands rigid, in thought, in tight bright blue pants. Girly pants, or artsy slacks, something you'd see at American Apparel, or in the village. She wears those pants a lot more now in place of the sexy stonewashed Guess jeans she'd worn with the holes at her knees. Those were her best jeans, but looking her best was not cool any longer. She'd become more Williamsburgh and Lower East Side than Orange County. No more make-up, and far less drinking. Thick black-framed eyeglasses; no more contacts. Flannel, checkered, Native American patterned, beaded or neon tops, and her primary colored flats. Heels were retired. They're for women who need attention. I watched as Elvis Costello, with a chest, and an ass, stared through the wet ocean wind. I felt like being a dick, but to have her here is so rare, why spoil it. She came because the place she works is five minutes away from my apartment; the apartment we chose together.  She has work the next morning, therefore, why not travel five minutes instead of ninety, which it typically takes her from her parents house where she is staying.  So close, and yet she still barely comes once a week. In this case, she'll do her conscience a favor and spend the night, putting in her time. Sex will happen, it'll just be one-sided; dry. Her pity day. This is what I got for moving my life. She was looking out the window and waving her hand over the blanket we'd received as a gift from my Uncle's mistress.  She hated that blanket or at least it's gaudiness.  After all, it was a plush American flag with an eagle the size of a human on it.  It was the softest damn blanket you ever felt, and we enjoyed that blanket.  We enjoyed that blanket hundreds of times, but this time she waved her hand over it like she was feeling for a memory. For an understanding, or for a reason as to why she's here and what's been her path to change, because even she knows, nothing here feels the same.  I looked past her at the window again as I did so often in the city, and thought about night time.

My nights began with a couple of pyramid-shaped fulcrum bumps, then hours straight watching Maria Callas belt out sounds you only heard in dreams. Her words like lanyards, tying me to the screen, I'd start to cry no matter the language. I'd cry and sit there rocking back and forth on the tips of my toes, elbows to my knees.  I'd punch the bed between my legs and run my hands hard through my thinning hair and down my face, grabbing the tears without care for where they'd spread.  I’d pretend it was the music and the loneliness and the wine and the beauty exiting such a skinny frame. To feel better, I'd donate ten dollars to PBS and pat myself on the back like a recovering alcoholic passing on a free drink. It was a viewer like me that kept PBS on the air. That's what they told me. A viewer like me, whose room spins as hands of cards are dealt virtual in spades and suede diamonds, or so they looked.  "Jackandthebean" would talk shit about being the best in the room before "Vinnystackd" would pull flushes out his ass and throw down eloquent guidonics. I could see some slick Bronx Goomba with equally thinning hair fist-pumping and punching the keys on his Compaq Presario. Just beyond my computer screen I'd stare at my darkened face in the shoddy plexi reflection. I believed that if I stared long enough, I’d discover why I am here. "Vinnystackd" would chime in - "yo Justpyhil, aint got all day kid!!" I'd check. I just sat and sweat in those same wicker chairs we'd had in NY. The flattened brown seat cushion wore a faded fold at the bend of my knees, paining the lax muscles of my hamstrings. Instead of un-tying the seat cushion on her chair to use as extra padding, I'd fold a black hooded sweatshirt of my buddy’s band, long since shrunk from incidents with dryers, and sit defeated. I couldn’t take any game seriously while coked out. We weren't even playing for fucking money. This was the shit of the shit in Pokerstars where you could press "refill my pot" and they'd replenish your chip count over and over. Coke goes quick.  After about forty minutes I need something in my hands, something to lick and fixate my lips. Bottles of Cabernet laid lengthwise in the metal five-ring Olympic wine holder. It’s the only thing I’d stack in the apartment aside from Ramen and Tyson Spicy Chicken fillets. Wine bottles are sold in food stores in LA, right alongside milk, bread and cereal, so I’d line my cart with them. Anything Cab Sauv, four years or older and less than twenty bucks; that was my rule. I'd finish a bottle on a normal night. A normal night was 6-8 hours long. I'd look real closely at the cork once I'd slipped it out.  Thick and clotted, I knew it’d be a rich, potent, delish.  If it was thin and runny and light, I knew it’d taste tangy, sour and biting….too young. My carpet below the table was littered with corks.  You could see the white carpet stained pink below them, all dried, whitened, sticking out of the vent like a pile of clothes with burned and branded tags …..Hess, Menage a Trois, BV, Coppola, Frei Brothers, Franciscan, Lunde, Justin, Simi, St. Francis, Ravenswood.  Once I poured my first glass, I'd sit back, stretch out my legs, and pull up a reliable porn site to see what was new.  Behind plastic rope-turn blinds, I'd start myself off and just get comfortable.  I knew the start was always more of a primer for what I would eventually imagine in my head for climax.  My heart would race at the thought of her with another man.  It was the one automatic thing that'd do it, and so I'd rub one out and reach for the paper towel roll on the ground near the corks.  Tissue boxes had long become the expense to deny for such a depressing routine.  I'd wipe myself off and close the page immediately, so sick with myself.  I'd go from amazing to zero in seconds, after all, I am only 26 and this is a typical Saturday night. Fuck being a Saturday, this was daily. You'd hate the night too.  I looked back at her blue pants and shut the sink off.

"You ready?"
"yea" she says.
"I think it should be pretty dark by the time we get there."
She didn't answer. She grabbed her purse and flicked her eyebrows up as if to say..."mmm.hmmm" and walked toward the door.
"Do you know how to get there?"
"Yea" she says.  "I looked it up. We just take the freeway like two exits North near Burbank and hop off...we should see a line of cars."
"It's gonna be weird with no snow on the ground."
"yea but it's not bitter friggin cold" she said.
"Hey, you're the one that wants to be back in NYC's bitter friggin cold."

She was silent. I hadn't been out of the apartment for anything but a movie, a beach run or a night of sipping scotch at the local jazz haunt.  Anything outside with someone I knew, nonetheless someone I still loved, would get me in a good mood.

 "I'm just saying, it'll be weird having the windows down and wearing just a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops when staring at a Christmas Light show."
"I guess I'm just used to it" she said matter-of-factly.
"How much is it again?" I wondered.
"Dont worry, I brought a coupon I saw in the newspaper" she said.
"I didn't mean it like that, I just wondered if I had to stop at an ATM."
"I have money" she said.
"Babe, just because I lost my job, doesnt mean I can't afford a Christmas Light show."
"It's not necessary" she says.

Shutting the door behind me, we walk to the elevator with a distance between us. She hits the button and waited in silence. We made no eye contact and stared at our reflections. Im not sure we'd had any eye contact since sitting at the glass-topped wicker kitchen table.  I wanted to be engaged in some sort of conversation, after all, I barely get to see her.  I figured I'd ask about Monica.  She loved Monica, a newbie.  She loved Monica so deep and so quickly that it hurt just to pretend you were interested in what they'd done. She crossed her arms and looked down at her feet while talking.

"She's good" she said.
"Is she dying for you to come back?" I asked.
"Of course she is, we only started becoming best friends the last few months of school when you moved."
"Yea, I know...I figured you two were already discussing when you'll see eachother again."
"Well, that's the thing, like, I'm hoping she'll come here for a long weekend, and then I'll probably like, go away with her or something."
"Where do you guys think you'll go?"
"I dont know, maybe Mexico or Costa Rica...all the girls from NY will go."
"Good, good for you.  It'll be guys look like you have a lot of fun least from what it looks like on Facebook."
"Yea, well, she's don't even know."

Her eyes light up and I hear her smile crackle as it forms.  She lifts her head and uncrosses her arms to lean relaxed against the glass.  I automatically get jealous and think how I haven't seen her smile like that around me in months.
"The last time I saw you smile like that was a picture of you and her on Facebook standing outside some sort of changing room wearing "Vote for Mike Hunt" shirts."
"Ha! saw that was her idea. We took those pictures near NYU campus in some cute little shop."
"Never pictured you wearing a shirt that said always hated the word Cunt" I said distastefully.

The elevator opened into the parking garage and I offered to go get the car.  It was about 200 feet away.  The parking lot lined the entire basement of the building.  She declined and said she'd walk.   In silence we walked, listening to our footsteps; my clapping sandals and her dragging flats.  When we got to my jalopy of a car, the car next to me, in its reserved spot, was new.  It was a tinted, chromed, sexxed up Mercedes S55 AMG.  Black as night and opaque glass.

"Fucking douche bags...who parks that close?" I said.
"Who tricks out their beautiful Mercedes like they were some sort of drug dealer?" she says.
"A drug dealer," I laugh.  No one should ruin a car like that with black rims and a spoiler?!"
"It looks like shit" she says.
"Probably some fucking kid with mommy and daddy's money, living in the Penthouse going to UCLA and studying Communications" I said.

She was quiet.  The car sputtered a bit while starting.  It was a 1998 Maxima after all and it paled in comparison to our neighbor.  We were pulling out and I looked at the Mercedes again, and back at her and she was looking out the window. I kept conversation to a minimum.  I figured it's better just to enjoy her company rather than make it awkward by talking.  I kept my hand out the window and made waves with the wind while driving.  The night sky still had twinges of green and blue as the sun had recently dipped below the horizon.  Cars had their tops down and stars were beginning to wake up.  We pulled off the exit ramp near Paramount Pictures studios, threw on the A/C and sat at a traffic light.  Signs pointed us to a radio station that was playing 24-hours worth of Christmas tunes and she couldn't have been more ecstatic considering her disposition.  This was something I had forgotten.  For years I had been tortured with non-stop holiday music from Thanksgiving until Christmas; it's all she would listen to.  I couldn't stand it, but at this moment I was happy with her habit.  The lines of cars filed in to two lanes and we ran slow like a conveyer belt, craning our heads to the sides at each exhibit.

Companies sponsored each display and put their logos next to the grass beside it.  An Oakley sign sat below a squirrel that blinked.  The squirrel was the third in a sequence that lit in order to show its escape from a sack that Santa had at his groin during takeoff.  The reindeer were stilted at different heights as they lofted into the air with Rudolph at the front, his red nose like a siren. Santa looked back wearing thick blinging shades with an I just got laid smile. The squirrel had a nut in its mouth. We laughed at the subtle innuendo that may or may not have been implied but figured it could go either way since they put a bow on the nut.  Bing Crosby came on.

"Did you know this guy was a complete asshole?" I asked.
"Who" she said.
" Bing Crosby" I replied.
"Yup, an alcoholic, abusive piece of shit."
"Really....I didn't know." 
"Yea, like, you had my father's parents back in the day listening to this guy and loving him for his deep voice and chill singing - they'd be sitting there sipping their egg nog probably cheersing to Bing, and the guy's beating his kids and wife because he's fucking miserable."
"What?!  Where'd you hear this?" she asked.
"Oh, it's publicly known. His kids and wife came out and told everyone after he'd died."
"Really..." she enamored at the thought.
"They didn't want to effect his image or legacy while alive so they I think they were probably scared he'd come after them and cane them to death if he were old and able."

She laughed, and the car sputtered. I looked down at the steering wheel and held it tighter. The car continued to sputter and hiccup and then powered down. The lights began to dim on the dashboard and the radio connection faded.  We heard nothing until I pumped the gas for a few rounds.  Two seconds later, it powered back up again.

"What the hell was that?" I asked out loud.
"I have no idea" she muttered.

My first intuition was to shut off the A/C and radio, but I felt embarassed.
"Turn the A/C and radio off" she said.
"Right," I said.

I flicked off the dials and the car regained its composure.  The interior lights brightened and showed signs of life as my heart sank and thoughts of my car dying right there came up to my throat.  I had plenty of gas but I was on edge about causing a scene with a dead jalopy of a car.  I could picture my girl, the girl I loved who no longer really loved me, sitting there discontent on the grass while christmas lights flash above her and people just staring.  It'd be another reason to wish she'd never left New York.  We continued to drive, gently pressing the gas pedal and listening for any little sign of demise.  All we really heard was the hum of generators for each exhibit, stone crackling beneath our tires, and the radios of cars in the back and front of us.  I put my hand on my forehead in disgust and exhaled scorn for this life; this position I'd been put in. A position I'd put myself in.  It was my fault.  It was my fault.  That's when I discovered it.  I felt like crying right there in front of her.  This place had brought me nothing but bad luck.  Coming out here seemed like the natural course of action, the next step in a thriving relationship.  The ease of transferring ones job and having a replacement family to snuggle up to, my God how the drawing of ones life in the sand was swept away in an instant by a wave.  A rogue wave, collectively building itself from the other side of the world for years before gaining momentum to slam down on these shores with zero warning.  We exited the park.  The highway seemed to be a comfort zone for the car.  The engine was purring and the wind in my face renewed some sort of confidence.  It released the care I'd balanced on one of life's hypothetical hurdles.  One chapter was ending, and my worry for success during that stage, was no more.  I was just open, and flippant.  For the person next to me could do no more wrong to me than a stranger, or so it felt in that moment.  I never know if it's just that passing moment, or a natural high, or chemical equilibrium your body finds, I don't ever know until I'm there, but when you're there, nothing matters because nothing could be better than that feeling.

We pulled up to the stoplight at my building at Barrington and Wilshire.  I exhaled and thought to myself, Thank God.  Out into the median, each oncoming car passed us before I could turn.  When it was relatively clear, my car sputtered into the vacant lanes and ceased.  Mind you, it only takes a few seconds for a new car to approach and not quite understand that your car is dead in the middle of an intersection.  Pumping the gas, I scream.

"God Dammit!"

I see the car continue on its path toward us, approaching with zero knowledge as to our predicament.  They probably think we're waiting for someone to cross the street and had pulled out prematurely.  They lace into their horn as they come toward us.   Quickly I thought of grabbing her, putting my arm around her legs as if to move her immeasurably close to me in case of relieving even the tiniest margin of a horrific impact.  I pumped the brakes like a bass pedal, pushing down as hard as I could until I heard the screeching of brakes and the sound of tires burning.  The car, my car, shot forward in pops like flexing a bicep, bursting and ceasing.  Crippled, the car twitched along the curb as we came out of a fear-filled trance, not touching eachother.  Pedestrians stared as my car steamed into the parking garage and perished at the gate.  I couldn't even get it to my reserved spot.  I felt responsible, horrified and I knew this wasn't a moment of thanks or eventual erotic thank-god-we're-alive sex, this was the last straw of a pathetic life she'd no longer signed up for.  I stepped out of the car, and asked her to jump in the driver's seat while I pushed.  She hopped over from the passenger seat without getting out.  While trying to push, I began to sweat or breakdown, I really couldn't tell the difference.  My sandals slipped along the pavement gaining no traction as my face burst red with blood to the skin.  I couldn't move it.  The fucking car was too heavy, I didn't have the right sneakers, I was still in shock....the elevator doors opened but I paid no attention.  I didn't want to make eye contact with anyone, I'd had enough of being the laughing stock, so I pushed harder, grunting. The car started to move.  I looked forward to see if she was steering as I laid my shoulder into it, and I saw this Asian kid pushing from the open driver-side door. 

"Thanks so much" she said to him.

I couldn't speak so I just kept pushing.

"We're all the way down at the end, I hope you don't mind" she said.

"No" he whispered and pushed.

He wore black sunglasses with slick spiky black hair and a black t-shirt.  His jeans were dark with some silver glinting off of them, and black sneakers.  He pushed so hard that the car seemed to glide.  In two minutes, we had gotten to my spot.  We pulled forward past my car so we could back it in.  As we pushed it back, she struggled to turn the wheel since the automatic steering had been disabled.  The car was heading for the god damned Mercedes as I yelled for her to hit the brakes.  She did, and missed it with an inch to spare.  Together, we jockeyed the car, pulling and pushing back and forth until we'd finally straightened it out.  We had only left about a foot between us and the Mercedes, but I didn't give a shit.  As long as we could just stop sweating and this poor kid could go on his way, I'd feel a bit better.  I looked up at him as he wiped his forehead from the less prickly spikes.

"Thank you so much man; I truly appreciate it" I said.

"No problem, no problem" he said as he shook my hand.

"Do you need a jump?" he asked.

"Absolutely not, I'm not going anywhere, and I have AAA so I'll have them come by, but thank you so much again, truly a lifesaver."

"Ok" he said.  "Don't worry, everything will be alright. You'll see" he said.

He waved good bye to her in the drivers seat, as she made her way over to the passenger side.  The car had been wedged in so tight, there was no other way to get out.  The Asian wiped his hands on his pants, reached into his pocket and clicked the alarm to the Mercedes.  Stepping back, I wiped the sweat from my forehead and looked up.  He pulled out from the parking spot as I blinked over and over, my eyes stinging and face hiding its surprise behind a smile.

I'd learned something, right there, in that moment.  Nothing I'd expected, or wanted to happen, ever did.  If things happened, they'd happened for a reason.  In the future, I would make sure not to look for the conclusion before it presents itself naturally, because it will.  I guarantee it eventually will.  The hope is that the lessons I learn and the shape my end takes, will not be a circle.

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