Friday, April 26, 2013


I was looking down listening to my diskman when she stopped directly in front of me to say hi. She was tall and narrow and her face hawkish, beautiful. Her eyes smiled. I took off my headphones. She told me that there was going to be a microbrew festival at the waterfront the coming weekend. Cool, I said. You can sample all sorts of beers for the price of admission, she said. She added that it should be a real fun time. I don’t need a special occasion to drink beer, I told her. There was a pause. I made a quick calculation. Are you asking me to go with you, I asked. Yeah, sounds fun, I think, she said. Sure, why not, let’s make plans later, I said. She walked away. A few weeks earlier I had asked her if she wanted to get a drink and she said that she had a boyfriend, which made perfect sense because she was so very pretty. I had only gotten the courage to ask because we worked together nearly every day and the familiarity had collapsed the distance between her prettiness and my illusions.

We met for lunch before the beer-fest then walked there. She wore faded blue jean overalls and an undersized pink t-shirt underneath (this was fashionable in the ‘90s, take my word for it). It was sunny, she was a fair woman, and she practically reverberated in the light. I was already plenty smitten—I used to listen to “Lay Lady Lay” and picture her with me—and by the time we got to the waterfront, I was a lost cause. Then we drank in the sun for hours. As the day went on we brushed accidentally against each other more and more. At some point, we crashed into each other as we turned away from a beer display. As she laughed, I put arm around her waist, pulled her to me, and kissed her square on the mouth. You’re bad, she said. It was as corny and clich├ęd as I’m describing it, but it was fucking wonderful just the same. Not long after, I told her that my apartment had a great view of the west hills and that we should drink a beer there and watch the sun go down over Civic Stadium. She knew what all that bullshit meant and said yes and came home with me. We never opened any beer. We kissed from the door to the couch to the bed. I sat on the bed and she stepped in front of me. I looked up at her smiling eyes, just as I had a few days earlier.  She undid the straps of her overalls and the top came down to her waist. Women get naked all sorts of ways but there is something grand about the times when you get to see that bit of skin between the bottom of their shirt and the top of their underwear. Yes and more, I thought. At that moment I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else but near her. That’s the place I wanted to stay. Until one day I didn’t.

“You were out of my league/All the things I believed/You were just the right kind/Yeah, you were more than just a dream,” sing Fitz and the Tantrums. But I can’t shake the sense that it’s never more than just a dream. That no matter how lovely, the dream ends the moment you feel its unreality. And it’s those beautiful people that let you dream the most.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Small Hours and The Tender Years

This was funny at the time:

Mike had been drinking so heavily in those days that his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Mike, myself, and a few of the boys helped our buddy Matt move into his new apartment. After we brought in all of the boxes and furniture, we sat and drank beer and watched TV on the couch. At some point Matt walked into the living room glowing with anger. “Who the fuck just pissed all over the toilet and the floor in there?” He half-screamed it. We looked up and turned to Mike and his shaking hands. “Oh sorry man,” he said.

James left the bar at 1:30 in the morning with his friend and with this one girl who was so sketchy that she made all the scofflaws and reprobates we hung out with nervous. They went to a porn arcade where each person was to find some quality alone time in a booth. After doing what he came there to do, James went looking for his mates in shame and found them in a stall crowded together. When he pulled the curtain back, he discovered his friend busily sawing away at the girl’s parts that the bathing suit covers with a humming vibrator. He quickly shut the curtain and said to himself over and over: “think about puppies,” “think about puppies,” “think about puppies.”

The bar had closed before Joe and I were done so we were watching The Simpson’s episodes that he had recorded off the TV on VHS tapes. I remember that world was drifting in and out of focus and that time had become unmoored. Nonetheless, when Joe—for no reason that I can recall—pulled his gun out of the closet to show me, everything cleared up in a hurry. He began to describe the qualities of his revolver but I stopped him mid-sentence. I reminded him many shows about medical emergencies begin with something like: “So my buddy and I had been drinking. Then he decided to show me his gun . . .”

Ke$ha sings: “I don’t wanna to go to sleep/I wanna stay up all night/I wanna just screw around/I don’t wanna think about/What’s gonna be after this/I wanna just live right now/C’mon!” This pretty much captures the let’s-get-fucked-up-tonight-and-see-what-happens ethos of the youth I’m recounting here. Although when the things I mentioned above happened, when I was a young man, I would never have understood or appreciated Ke$ha. What a fool I was! At the time, I thought a song like Modest Mouse’s “Polar Opposites” told what me and my friends felt. It does, but Ke$ha does also and in a more democratic vein. Youth, excess, and the present: the material of all her songs.

This is also the theme of Taylor Swift’s “22.” But I think that Swift handles this theme in a different, less threatening register. Here, too, there is a disregard for what happens beyond right now. Only tonight matters, only what can be enjoyed and consummated at this second means anything at all. The difference, it seems to me, is that while in Ke$ha’s song there is a committed indifference to consequences, in Swift’s song there is no real possibility of consequences. “22” is a fantasy of what youth might be like if nights happened only in the way we imagine them. In those nights, we would laugh at the thought of our antagonists. Whatever we did would mark us as superior to everyone that looks down on us. Nothing we did would really embarrass us or make us feel like less than what we think ourselves to be. For what it’s worth, I think that “22” is a better song that “C’mon;” regardless, “22” portrays the kind of bullshit that only fools and the inexperienced believe. Ke$ha’s song knows that the night can take you anywhere, including places you don't want to go, Taylor Swift’s imagines away that possibility.