My beginning: No control.
Outside the window, the cold wind is howling and whipping back forth. Inside, deafening electronic music is pounding while dozens of drunken college kids slam their heads and blow their fists in the air. Steaming red lights beam into the room as half-drunk girls sip from their red cups and drift their eyes across the room, trying to latch on to something. Inside, the walls are cheap, paint chips crumbling and tumbling off. Fifty-something Syracuse locals don’t seem to like listening to screaming kids and Animal Collective at three in the morning.
I’m the tall kid with awkwardly dirty blonde hair. Is it brown or is it blonde? I have mutt hair, I guess. My drink is half empty and smells like it needs a shower. Why does dry paint look so much like cottage cheese? Cottage cheese reminds me of my mom’s second husband, Tom Lapinski. He looked like Frankenstein and didn’t know how to eat his nasty cottage cheese without wearing a shirt. Still, it’s really hard to look attractive and eat cottage cheese at the same time, unlike other dairy products. My knack for making anything sound gross and slightly sexual is pretty special.
Chad is standing next to me because he doesn’t know what else to do. He’s bobbing his head trying to get into the routine party scene, but it’s not quite biting yet. Friday nights blur together in the college bubble land, and it’s not like people go out to experience the same routine thing ever weekend, they’re out for all the same reasons, looking to hookup, looking to let loose and kick some ass. It’s like waiting for NASCAR drivers to crash into each other on the speedway.
“So, we’re pretty much done. Crazy, right?” he yells into my ear.
“Now what?” I bark to keep the conversation going.
“Time to park it on mom’s couch and make Craigslist my homepage.”
“Christ, this is sad. Why didn’t anyone tell me to stop studying journalism?” I asked.
“Yeah, like I’m going to take a shit on your dreams. Pass.”
Right then I’m wondering if it was ever my dream or just something that made sense at one point and that I was too scared to try new things. My cell phone vibrates in my pocket. Maybe it’s her. We need to talk. My heart always aches. She has to care. She’s not a robot like she says she is, right? Can anyone truly be this way? REALLY?! I wonder. I feel like the only guy who acts like such a girl when it comes to women. I’m such a pussy.
I pick up my phone blocking out the flashing lights from glaring the screen. “Danielle.” Shit, it is her. Why hasn’t she called me? “I’m outside.” Boy, she’s making this seem scary all of a sudden. I tell Chad I’ll be right back. I weave through the crowd like someone’s following me—but I have a bad feeling like I should walking slowly, remembering each step, just in case. The kitchen is packed. My bud Sam is against the refrigerator yucking it up with his longtime girlfriend Chelsea, probably arguing about their last game of Scrabble—they do that. And they say couples don’t like going to parties.
I want to barf out my heart. Danielle’s standing next to the post of the patio, wearing her trademarked too-cool-for-school look on her face. Her wavy brown hair is draped over her big, gripping eyes. She’s curvy, not skinny, but she always made it work. She’s not tired though. It’s that look like she’s finally looking at you after ignoring your flagrant observations for twenty minutes. I hate how hot she looks when she’s being a bitch.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I said.
“You knew whom I was going into this,” she said.
Robot Mode: Activate.
Her beauty and confidence wasn’t the only thing that kept me around, so don’t go calling me a shallow fool. I guess I kind of just wanted to stick around for the end of the movie just to see if it all turns out. Is she just mean? Kind of, but it was sexy and she had an itch for danger too. She’s confident, organized and a former honcho for the school’s daily paper. Key word: “former.” She got fired and sent to trial for forgery and theft, stealing money from the paper. Don’t ask because I never did.
“I thought you were kidding,” I said. “How could anyone really believe they don’t have a soul, seriously? Sorry I kept wondering if you’d ever decide to start caring about me.”
You could die out here. Danielle looks like she’s trying her hardest to hide a smirk. Her beautiful eyes don’t look too sympathetic either, and I’m starting to get a chill down my spine. I turn away because her emotionless face is more frustrating than anything.
“Would you feel better if I cried for you?”
It just got colder. Wind, fast enough to cut the skin. I need a cigarette.
“Do you want me to be lovey-dovey and whisper cute things in your ear? Because, I gotta tell ya, that’s never going to happen.”
I swear she almost giggled.
“No, I just want you to try,” I said. “I don’t feel like that’s a whole lot to ask.”
My head feels light enough to gently tear off my neck and float into the night. Some late-comers show up to the party, tripping in snow-slush from the long week of Syracuse weather. Welcome to the armpit of America’s climate. Some of the incoming girls are wearing next to nothing. Blizzards don’t stop house parties on Thirsty Thursdays, even though they’re always mediocre and always include the usual activities: beer pong, flip-cup, smoking on the porch outside, people watching, small-talk with the friends you came with, take shots, and if you’re lucky enough, smooth-talk a drunk freshman into going home with you.
“Why did you tell me you wanted a second chance with me on my 21st birthday?” I asked sadly.
I remember every moment. It was an odd dinner that night. I was getting a little drunk on Pinot Grigio, and I hadn’t seen Danielle for the past five months or so because I was consciously ignoring her. She thought it would be quaint to have a rainy day celebration at a Mongolian restaurant on West 72nd. Not surprisingly, the menu was limiting. The dialogue began as you’d expect, catching up on the latest happenings in each other’s lives, the old days and then Danielle came out of nowhere, saying “sometimes, I wish…I wish I had a second chance with you.” Never before in the history of mankind had such a statement made me speechless for so long. This girl doesn’t say stuff like that—she never gets personable unless she’s really in a rut, and that’s why I never forgot. She once cried on my shoulder after the forgery fiasco spread around campus. Sometimes it takes a tough situation to finally see someone for who they were, and that day I got a glimpse. I fell in love like the dim-witted goof I am.
I never forgot pondering on my way back home on the bus on whether or not I should have left my girlfriend for Danielle right then and there. Turns out, I just watch too many damn romantic comedies.
“I didn’t say that,” she said.
“What? Of course you did. I had this whole soliloquy in my head afterwards, tempted to leave my girlfriend for you. You don’t just make that up, unless you’re crazy.”
This time she doesn’t just giggle, she laughs.
“I’m sorry, but that didn’t happen.”
“I’m not going to apologize for myself. This is who I am.”
For any normal person, this would be perfect closure for a guy trying to get over a girl whom he knows will never love him, but not me. I’ll dump her and let her stick around in my head until I get drunk and start recklessly texting again. This isn’t happening. It can’t. Should I just put up with it? My friends and family never trusted her, and I tried my best to. It’s like it was never up to me. I turn back around to look at her one last time.
“OK, we’re done,” I said.
I wish that was the last time I was going to see her, but I knew it wouldn’t be—not by a long shot. What a relief that would be! Her face is blank, so I turn around to make sure I don’t see her smile again while I walk back into the lame party. Fittingly, Crystal Castles’ “Doe Deer” is shredding the plywood floors upon my dramatic entrance.
This time I’m not weaving through the crowd, I’m plowing. You don’t weave after dumping your girlfriend. Oh, I made you spill? Get over it. A girl with long dark bangs is eyeballing me as I re-enter the tossing living room ripping itself apart. I’ll take her. I look away once and look back to make sure it’s a done deal. Eyes still locked in, no contest. I walk over and whisper my name into her ear. She says her name is Maggie. She’s a 7-6-1. First number for body rating, second number for face rating and 1 for yes and 0 for no. Yes, you’re into her. No, you’re not. Even the nicest guys in the world are ¼ douchebag—I’m no different. Later we’ll dance, I’ll learn about her major, dream job, hometown and forget everything about her after we make out. I’m not taking her home because that was never the plan, and frankly I’m not that into random hookups. People say I could close the deal, but then I’d hate myself.
I want to fast-forward six years and skip it all, but it sinks it right there: it’ll never stop, it’s always going to be like this: graduation, real life on the precipice, the student loans, not becoming my father and being afraid to let go.
I’ll be lucky if I remember ¾ of tonight the next morning.
It’s a dimly lit old pub built with wood so old I wouldn’t be surprised if the wood was pulled out of cold ice water, floating next to corpses. It’s a Soho spot my dad frequently goes to because of the great bison burgers. November.
My dad’s sitting across the table from me, scrolling through his iPhone, checking his massive inbox and asshole readers on his website. It’s not like he’s busy, he’s just an addict. He runs his own business, it’s what he lives and breathes. This is what a post-newspaper collapse journalist has become. You’re never off the job. You’re never away from the story. The bar is stacked with mostly bridge and tunnel people, but for once I can say I’m a real New Yorker now that I know that means.
This morning I found my dad only wearing a wet towel at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday in his Bushwick apartment he sublets from a famous screenwriter. He never finishes his work in time, and he always looks a little bat shit. Cat litter and a couple nuggets of cat shit stood by the front door. He was pissed he fell behind on the column and how he spent three hours deleting spam from his comments board. You know he’s starting to lose it when he stares at his desktop computer with one-eye like Popeye watching porn, or a wimpy pirate.
“You need another girlfriend,” my dad says after finally looking up.
“I already have one, and I like Danielle,” I respond with a chuckle.
“You’re not hearing me. Don’t drop the one you have. Just go get another one.”
“Look, I know you’re not your brother, but you need to play the field more. Always have something else going on.”
“You do realize that’s considered cheating, right?” I ask.
“Its simply human nature. Do you actually think that people care that JFK banged Marilyn Monroe?”
“No, but that’s still not an excuse! Just because he was President doesn’t mean he gets a hall pass.”
“That’s your problem. Girls have been kicking you around since you were 12, and you keep playing into their hands. The secret is that they don’t have to know. Just don’t tell them!”
“Uhhhh…why wouldn’t I just dump my old girlfriend if I was that dissatisfied? Ever heard of holding onto a receipt?”
The older I get and the more I hang with my dad, the more we fight about the dumbest shit. At least we’re not arguing about Republicans right now. I honestly believe he’s serious when he says they should all be “gassed to death.”
“You just don’t get it. This way, you’re never left empty-handed, and maybe you’d stop jerking off in the shower!”
Wow, that was way too loud. That bomb turned at least three heads at the bar.
“Keep it down, O’Reilly. Keep in my mind this is coming from a guy who brought his son to his MARRIED girlfriend’s house, and dumped him off in the hubby’s gym room while you had a grand ole time next door. Mark my words, I will never forget that. Mom would never have done that,” I ranted.
I was either 11 or 12-years old flying in from San Francisco for my monthly weekend visit to see dad. The usual plans upon seeing dad were the same, lie around the West Hollywood apartment with dead plants and Bow-Flex machines he doesn’t use while watching DVDs (or laserdiscs back then) all weekend. On occasion we’d go out to a movie premiere, rub shoulders with beautiful actresses as my brother and I would stare at our watches, drink Shirley Temples and talk about Pokemon and EverQuest. This weekend it was just me flying down and dad wanted to see wonderful Ann-Marie whom he hooked up with at one of the Sundance Film Festivals.
“I don’t think you understand we have a special relationship. I rub your back, and you rub mine. I’m not sorry for it.”
“Dude, I was 13 years old!”
That night, we drove an hour and a half out to Long Beach and stayed for dinner, but had no idea it was going to be a sleep-over. After dinner, dad whispered into my ear, “we’re going to stay the night tonight.” I tried to complain without making a scene, but it was no-use. He was giving me that ‘WTF, dude? I’d totally do it for you!’ look. That guy’s workout room smelled like a workout room, which smells like sweaty asshole. I could hear them in the next room—not moaning, but the painfully subtle rocking noise. While this was pretty bad, this wasn’t the most sexual incident I’d ever witnessed with my dad. Lets just say he doesn’t wear underwear and sleeps naked--shit hangs out all the time. I got over the remnant bottles of lube and Magnum condoms lying around the apartment years ago.
“Still not sure why you’re complaining.”
“I don’t give a shit about anything as long as I’m being real. I don’t play games,” I said.
“All I know is that girls like guys who don’t give a fuck about them. Your problem is that you show them that.”
“So are we still going to this Aronofsky screening?” I asked.
The conversation stops. Dad slammed down his fourth tall glass of German beer. I’m starting to get that weird feeling again like I’m trapped inside my head. When and where did I start believing you’re supposed to watch life from the third person? Video games and movies. Only a head case like me would get paranoid that people have a different vision of the world through their eyes. Shit, there it goes again.
Where’s my iPhone, damn it?!