Actually, I do know you.
This is why we live here.
“So,” he thought to himself, “this is how it ends.” Bradley was being held over the edge of the Staten Island Ferry by three goons. He could feel the steam of the engine against the back of his neck. As far as he could tell, one more push would have been finito.
A matchstick lit, and was brought up to Tom’s scarred face. He lit his skinny, lady style cigarette, and took and deep inhale.
“You fucked with the wrong asshole, asshole!”
Todd flicked his cigarette, still lit, at Bradley. It was intended to sear his face a bit, maybe something on the cheek, that would have been good too, but with all the wind coming from off the water, it just blew away.
“Shit,” Tom muttered.
Two weeks ago, Bradley was walking downtown, whistling. He was in a GREAT mood. His lottery ticket for the day hit, and he was ten bucks the richer. Also, there was the matter of his dick getting wet the night before. Some girl, I say some, as even Bradley was not aware of her name. It was a freak occurance, even for someone as reckless as Bradley. He found himself the night before at a hotel bar, really only going inside to use the bathroom, but when he stopped to ask for directions, a young woman, the woman in question put her hand on his forearm, and give him incredibly detailed instructions, to literally walk upstairs. In the time it took for her to describe how to get to the bathroom, she had blinked three times, moistened her lips twice, and smiled over every word.
Brad was pretty positive it was on.
Two hours and 4 drinks later, he was downstairs, in the “VIP” section making small talk with this woman. They had laughed over innoucous things like, baseball statistics, which neither of them really understood. They briefly discussed favorite pens, and the best place to get pizza. But really it was a very protracted excuse for Brad to get drunk enough at the bar to make a move.
Which he didn’t. Instead when he went to pee again, she followed him upstairs, gave him a quick glance, and grazed his hand when walking towards the ladies room.
4 hours later, they resumed their “work” in her bed.
As he got up the next morning, grabbing his leather jacket and putting on his ratty canvas sneakers, he noticed that by her bed was a photo. A photo, framed of her, and some guy with a long scar across his cheek. He wanted to, for his sake assume that this guy was a brother. Maybe an old friend, but the way he was holding her, and the proximity of this photo to her bed was a bad sign.
So when a few weeks went by, and he kept sleeping with her, in spite of this photograph, it didn’t really surprise him when a car pulled up with two HUGE guys and the same dude from the photograph. What DID surprise him, was that when he kicked the dude in the nuts, and they threw him over the deck, that he didn’t scream. Also, that he was such a strong swimmer.
That was nice to know.
Todd was walking by the university office when he looked up and saw a group of plants all pressed against the window. He stopped for a moment, as if caught in a net. Why did these plants seem to call out to him, he wondered. He tried really hard to imagine what was on the other side of that window. It looked so innoucous at first glance, but these plants clearly were put there by someone, possibly to make the room seem more cheery and now, here they were, choking off all of the light, wilting, trying, it seemed, to escape.
He went back to his apartment in the east village, a six floor walkup. The space was like a closet and he was glad to finally be rid of it, though a small part of him was really sad to go. This was the first place in New York that had housed him, the first place here that made him feel like he belonged. Even if the steam heat was oppressive when it was hot, and non-existant when it was cold, even though he had to always think twice before running errands or leaving, lest he have to climb those stupid fucking steps again, and even though his roommate had more products in the bathroom than that 2 foot excuse for a lavavortory could even dream to hold, it was his.
He was sitting in his room, building boxes, thinking maybe he should just stop, cancel his move, stay here, just a few more months, maybe another year. What’s the point of grad school anyway? Will he be any better off than he is right now?
He thought to call Emily, and ask her what to do. He knew that on some level she would say the things he wanted to hear, that everything will be better once he makes this transition, that he clearly wanted to do this thing, otherwise he wouldn’t have spent so many hours working on his essay, getting personal recommendations together, studying for the GRE’s. But Todd wasn’t so certain. Maybe he just liked applying, because it gave him a sense of hope. When it was ridiculously cold outside, he needed to have a glimmer of something to look forward to, but now that it was nice out he couldn’t understand why he was leaving.
It was the total New York connundrum. If you are here in September, it’s gorgeous, with fall and Woody Allen homages everywhere, and then when the leaves start to fall and Christmas is upon us, it’s sort of magical. But after New Years there are those five months of shear darkness, the horrible cold months, that break your spirit, and cause the average New Yorker to think, “Screw it, as soon as it gets warm, I’m out of here.” But when it does finally become bearable, with the two weeks of glorious spring, it’s hard to imagine leaving, like seeing the fuckbuddy you constantly fight with suddenly put on a bathing suit.
Todd, got up from the floor, determined not to spend the next six hours just looking at old photos, reminescing about his old places, thinking of the history of all of his miserable crap. Instead he took a deep breath and called the administration of his school, determined to put his enrollment on hold, as long as they’d let him.
But before he got through, he hung up.
“What the hell am I doing?” he asked himself.
He went into the fridge and looked around, poking his nose into his roommates tupperwear and grabbed a piece of cold chicken out of some sort of “salad” she had concocted. Who’s food would he steal if he left? And the chinese restuarant on the corner, how long had it taken for them to learn his order by face? Smiling when he would run in across the street from the video store, greeting him to a thickly accented: “Tsao Chick'n!”
He started to wonder if it was normal to have pangs like this as he opened the window and sat on the fire escape smoking a cigarette. Down on the street, a group of Puerto Rican kids were playing what looked like freeze tag, laughing. He wanted to stop them, stop this moment, freeze it himself, and stay here, where everything was easy. Breezy.
Los angeles; more of
Sam was sitting on the beach in his t-shirt watching the sun set. It was January, and still kinda crisp out but, the fact that he wasn’t wearing a jacket was somehow really fulfilling. This was his first winter not on the East Coast, his first winter in his new hometown.
Even as he thought of it, it made him feel weird. "How could this be my new hometown? It’s so fake here,“ he mumbled.
"What?” said the woman walking by.
“Oh, I’m sorry I was just talking to my-
“Yeah, you don’t do that sometimes?”
The two of them exchanged a look. Something was happening. Something might be happening they thought.
Sam had been in town for about three weeks. He dutifly found a modest sized apartment, had been scrubbing it down, walking the landscape trying to get familiar with his area, West Hollywood, even though he knew he wouldn’t stay there long. This was a temporary resting ground, just convenient enough to figure out where everything was, until he new up from down. So far he had discovered where the Whole Foods was, and a pretty good place to get burgers in walking distance. There was a pool in his apartment complex, but no one seemed to use it. Other than that, he was pretty clueless as to how things worked here.
For example, a born and bred New Yorker, who had spent his last 30 years in Brooklyn, he was used to making contact with people, but this woman was the first person to talk to him who wasn’t serving him some sort of food item. Sam was almost giddy, trying to contain himself, hoping to chose his words well, lest this situation magically disappeared. He looked up at the woman, who was modestly attractive, but more importantly, of a similar age. He tried to glance at what she was wearing without being…well, gross, and to his advantage he had the sun, which allowed him to cover his face and quietly oogle her. Slim, but wearing a full length winter type jacket, even though it was 60 degrees out. She was pale, and had frown lines on her face, as if they were always there.
“Sometimes, yeah, I guess when I get excited or nervous I talk to myself. It’s a bad habit.”
“No, I’m sort of the same,” she smiled back. My friends back home always give me shit about it.“
Sam’s eyes sort of lit up. "Where’s home?” he said.
“Seriously? I’m from New York!”
And instantly they had a conversation going. What Sam would tacitly admit over the next few hours of them talking, including the time they spent at the bowling alley, basically miming the other couples, was that he was lonely, and moreover felt guilty for enjoying this place so much. He was also really happy to have met this lady who laughed at the right spots, and was seemingly game for anything. As the night sort of progressed to a close, he walked her to her car, which still had New york plates on it.
“What happened to your door?” he asked her.
She stared at it, the crumpled mess that it was and paused briefly, before saying:
35 minute freewrite
Los Angeles Apartment
She stood in her empty sublet, looking out of the long blinds of her sliding door. It was sunny and warm, normal for LA, but Claire couldn’t get over the sense that everything here was weird.
A few weeks ago she was on the road, driving through a blizzard, and today she was eating cereal out of a pot with a plastic spoon in her underwear, sitting out in the sun. Somehow, her situation seemed to have made a lateral move.
Two weeks ago, Claire had made a very practical, (for her) decision. She would throw out all of her stuff, save for whatever would fit in the back of a hyundai, and drive it across the country, where she had no job, no friends, and no prospects.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
She quit her job, though quit is sort of a relative thing, as Claire only freelanced, working at an Ad Agency doing mockups, some junior copywriting, but mainly the creative equivalent of clerical work. At 28, she had a little bit of money saved up, and really, given the new circumstances of her life, had no real reason to be anywhere. So flush with opportunity, and depressed out of her mind, she settled up her New York affairs, business and otherwise, and then hoped in a car after making a really long playlist, and bolted.
The drive was horrorific on some levels. Very quickly she discovered the reality of the situation she had put herself in: no friends, no talking, no place to be, which turned into ALL ALONE, ALL ALONE, ALL ALONE, when she sat in her car driving for miles on end.
But somehow, when she crossed the border of California, things seemed to change. As if by a magical windfall, she felt better, relieved. She could hear birds, and small cool salt water in her nostrils. And the waste land of LA was constantly on, 24 hours of lights, and distractions! Even if she was alone, it didn’t feel so isolated. At first.
After the first week of her sublet ended, the novelty of being there was already starting to wear off. This was due to two key events. The woman she was subletting from, influenced by how lonely and sad Claire seemed, staying in that one room sublet, decided to make the leap and move in with her boyfriend. Like a smack in the face of her own situation, Claire found, bit by bit, that her new apartment was being phased out. She would come home, and discover a few less dishes, a missing ottoman, closets emptied out. But slowly, in vaguely imperceptible amounts, until one day she found her self sitting on the floor in her sleeping bag, eating cereal out of a pot, with a plastic spoon.
It’s a bit like how they tell you if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out, but if you slowly bring the water to boil, with the frog in the pot, it will stay there and let itself be killed.
But waaaay less dramatic.
The second factor into Claire’s big life change while living in LA came when she, after realizing that she was slowly watching her home melt away, discovered that she had no one to talk to after the TV was taken away. So she started to go out a bit more, to coffee shops, and one in particular, with the good smoothies, and turkey bacon. And while sitting there, she saw a man, youngish, maybe mid twenties, who was reading a book, by an author she loved, even though it was cliche, as everyone of this age loves that author. But the way he was reading this book, as if it was the most important thing ever, with that air of, I have no where else to be, I’m not killing time, sort of entranced her. She really wanted to be this man, she wanted to sit in that coffee shop that excited about anything. And so after staring at him for two hours, straight, when he got up to leave, she followed him out the door.
She followed him for the block it took him to get to his car. She followed him for the 15 minutes he was on the freeway, always trying to stay one car behind, two cars ideally, though that made it hard to see him, to make sure he was still there. She suddenly realized that following people is hard! It’s not like the movies, where you tail someone and then cut to the next scene, they are still, after all that work, unnoticed and right on the tail of their man.
Instead, it felt, to Claire, like she was constantly almost losing him, or worse, that he knew he was being followed, and at any point would freak out, and stop the car to break in her windows.
After 15 minutes on the freeway, she exited in Van Nuys, at a gas station, where he pulled in. He was in there for awhile, too long really, and she got nervous. But by this point it was too late for her to stop following him. She had to see where this would go, even if it ended badly. So after an excruciating 45 minutes in the parking lot, she got out of the car and walked into the mini mart, and looked around. But he wasn’t there.
“Hey,” she said to the clerk, “did you see a guy come in her?”
“I see lots of guys, chicky. You’re gonna need to be more specific.”
Claire thought about what she would say to describe him, his dirty black hair, medium size build, t-shirt and shorts, but realized it was totally non-descriptive. And worse, what would he say, she say him come in here, so it’s not like she’s crazy. And right as that thought crossed her mind, she turned around, her eyes catching a blur of movement, and saw him running to his car, before he made eye contact with her, and driving off.
Claire stood there for awhile as if she had seen a ghost, unsure as of what to do. She decided, against her better judgement, to keep following him. So she raced to her car, and was about to get into the beat up hyndai when the guy she was following t-boned her car, crushing in the driver side door.
“Fuck you!” he said, as he sped off.
She looked at her door, where the glass had shattered over her Carl’s Junior wrappers and old bottles of juice, and started laughing. She sat on the curb of the mini mart, when the guy behind the counter came out.
“Holy shit!” he screamed. "What the fuck was that?!“
"The total manifestation of how my life feels right now,” she mumbled.
Arghh! He hung up the phone in a panic. He was late, but for the fifth time this week. Clearly, Rob was going to be fired.
He took a deep breathe and tried to clear his voice enough to make it sound like he wasn’t just waking up.
“Hello, Janice? Hi It’s Rob, I’m running late today…yeah…I, Uh, my son was sick so I had to go take him to the hospital. Yeah, great thanks.”
When he hung up the phone, he was surprised by a number of things, namely that he’d lied about his kid being sick, and worse, that he said he had a kid. Rob was used to, or liked to consider himself a nice upstanding guy. As he raced to the bathroom, brushing his teeth and matting down his bed head, he kept asking himself why he felt the need to lie about something, and to lie so big. His job was only temporary, freelance, fleeting. Even if the magazine he was working at never called him back, in fact even if he never did any copywriting again, he’d be fine.
Three weeks ago, Rob was in California, taking meetings about a screenplay he wrote. He felt powerless, with no control over what he was doing in life, but he did feel certain about a few things. Namely, the smoothies were amazing, he liked having a tan in the winter, and he really enjoyed being able to say he was going to meetings about his screenplay. It was pretentious and vain and self centered the way he would bring it up at parties, gatherings, or even standing next to people in the urinal, making small take. But atleast he had that.
Now, back in New York, where it was cold, he noticed he kept trying to sabotage his freelance work, had found excuses to make him seem unworthy of being hirable, was always tossing and turning in his sleep.
“Maybe it’s time to quit,” he told Cherise.
“Can you afford to do that?” she responded.
“Well, no, but what are the alternatives, keep going until I get hired full time, keep doing this shit for the rest of my life, he said back, sipping his Macchiato.
"I think you’re being overdramatic. It’s not like you shovel coal or clean asbestos, you do light office work in a cubicle where they give you free Fiji waters in the fridge. Maybe you should come down from your high horse, Norma Ray.”
Rob spent the next three weeks trying to figure out if he could be in the city miserable. He would look at the people around him in the park, when he would take lunch, and they looked so happy, the ones who were jogging, or playing with their kids. And then there were the others, the ones who like him, were clearly on borrowed time, counting down every minute until they had to be back at their windowless cubicle, resenting these, these people with their happiness.
Rob took a bit of his donut, threw the crumbs at the pigeons, took out his phone and sent a text message.
Message: Do you want my couch. Be back in ? Going to LA.
She replied back quickly.
Message: That couch is hideous. Throw it out.
“Shitty Road Food.” (15 minute freewrite)
She’s at the gas station somewhere outside of Boise. It’s snowing and cold, which makes sense in December. Ingrid goes inside of the 7/11 and gets a slushy with the last of her change from the ashtray in the car. A slushy in december is counter intuitive but who is gonna say anything to her?
This is Ingrid’s fourth trip out West, her second time during the winter, and her first trip alone. After Kirk died, she thought it made sense to be here, on empty stretches of higways, listening to music loudly, eating shitty food, staying at motel 6’s, watching bad tv. I’m the same way, I find it comforting to be surrounded by the exact same thing in different places.
When she gets to Utah, and the blizzard that was chasing her stops, she’ll cry. Not because she beat out a blizzard but because…well, she’s no longer occupied with a goal and she will realize concretely, that she is all alone.
When Ingrid was at her desk job, in the accounting firm, doing actuary assistant work, it seemed romantic to be out in the open sea, alone, or better, with a group of other pirates, that was a common fantasy, plundering yachts filled with old white people,who are sipping Mai Tai’s unaware that this very petite, brunette with the half Asian eyes, was about to rob them.
It was more rewarding of a fantasy than planning out what type of couch to buy. Lately, al of her friends at the age of 24, have started domesticating themselves. First there was the subtle shacking up, which appeared perfunctory: relationships had lasted long enough, roommates are annoying, rent is cheaper, it’s a given. But then there were the subtle shifts in conversation. People she once used to push in shopping carts while drunk in college were now really excited about dinner parties, and color patterns. It seemed like all her friends could think about were wine country get-a-ways and bed and breakfasts. And you know, Ingrid, she loves a good breakfast as much as the next person, right? I mean, she would say about herself:
“Listen, I love a good breakfast as much as the next person, right…”
And she even had a thing for sleeping in nice beds, nothing particular about the concept of bed and breakfasts was bad…it’s just…was this what they had resigned themselves to, these friends of hers filled with youth?
Ingrid, was one who still believed that you should sneak into movies, even though she could pay, that the best way to while away a Sunday was loitering on a bike and eating junk food. That caramel popcorn, when it’s warm, is almost a religious experience. And no one else seemed to be on the same page.
When Kirk passed away, most people were sad. Obviously. I mean, he was young like them, and of course it was too soon. But the fact that nothing seemed to stop, that people Kirk and Ingrid knew were still able to look online at West Elm catalogues, and to trade recipes for flan, or if not flan particularly, some other more obscure annoying desert, really pissed her off.
At the very least, Kirk would have appreciated that Ingrid was in a car listening to terrible country music, ironically, singing loud at the sad songs, because if he was here he would be doing the same thing. Eating Slim Jims, and licorice whips, trying to guess where speed traps were, and then blowing by them. And if no one else was ready to make that sort of a grand gesture in his honor, then so be it, Ingrid would step up to the plate.
“I ate all the Cookies.” (15 minute freewrite)
Ok, so there was a bank heist. On this tv show I was watching. And while I was watching it, my little brother tried to climb up on this counter to get some cookies and fell, and busted his head.
I was going to get in a HUGE amount of trouble. First of all, I’m older, and so, you know, I’m responsible and stuff. Second of all, I had eaten all of the cookies, which is why he was searching up there in the first place.
My first thought was to call my older sister. And then I realized the implications of this immediately. She’ll call Mom, Mom will call Dad, and Dad will beat the living shit out of me. So instead I carried my brother into the backyard, laid him down next to the geraniums, and put a baseball bat by his head, and a glove in his hand. And then I put the ball next to the place where he cracked his head open.
Then I ran next door, screaming out to my neighbor, Glennis, or Mrs. Connor as everyone calls her, but I call her Glennis because I feel, at 14, I think it makes me seem mature.
She opens up her ranch home door, which is blaring AC inside. Upon seeing my face, which is frantic and panic stricken, she puts down her ice tea and runs behind me. It’s kinda cool how I didn’t have to say anything, she just knows that something is terrible. It’s like that time my mom came to tell me that our dog had been hit by a car, and I was masturbating in the bathroom, and she says “Sam! Come out!” But I’m right in the middle of something, so I say “In a MINUTE!”
Actually on second thought, it’s like the opposite of that.
So she, Mrs. Connor is running behind me and we get to the backyard. She tells me to call the 911, and she says it like that too: “Go call the 911!” Like she thinks that how people talk, adding “the” to things that have no need for “the”. I run inside, call 911 and pretty soon the paramedics are at the door.
Now this is when it gets awkward.
My brother, they quickly ascertain is fine. He has a mild concussion, but it’s just a small cut. What’s problematic now, is that everyone is really confused as to what happened. My brother can’t remember how he got into the back yard, and no one can figure out what, by the looks of the scene, could have happened.
“I think maybe the ball must have hit him,” says Mr. O'Connor.
“No, that doesn’t make any sense, he has a cut on his head, and the ball is clean.”
“That doesn’t mean anything,” says the second paramedic,“It could have hit him, and then he started bleeding.
"Well, if he was playing ball, then why is he holding a bat and a glove?”
“He’s 8, kids are stupid,” says the second paramedic.
And next thing I know, they paramedic, the smaller one is getting pushed by the Mr. O'Connor. And these grown men are on the ground fighting while I’m in the kitchen pretending to pour them all some water. I know people say the heat makes people do crazy things, but this just seemed ridiculous.
“Fuck you Julia Stiles.” (15 minute freewrite)
It was 4:30 in the morning. There was a yellow checkered cab driving aroung the streets of New York. Sarah was smoking a cigarette looking for fares, yawning to herself, thinking about how nervous she was.
She had had this nagging nightmare for the last three weeks, which wasn’t so much a nightmare as a sensation of dread. “What if this is as good as it gets for me,” she would worry, after waking up in a sweat. This was her tenth job in the last three months.
Nothing seemed to fit, and nothing seemed to make her less restless. She had gotten used to living in New York, even though she couldn’t really sleep at night, it was comforting being in a sea of people.
When she left her boyfriend in Chicago, she worried that maybe, there was no way she’d be able to make it alone. But it was surprising simple to figure out the basics: where the supermarket was, how to put money on her laundry card, and at first it was a sort of fun game. Being without Brian allowed her to make up a reality that no one could contridict. She was never worried that when she bought kale, a familiar face would pop out and say that she probably wouldn’t like it, or worse: “Why are YOU getting THAT? Gross!”
When Sarah was in grade school she met Julia Stiles on a school trip, and at the time Julia was a little well known in their town for being in a small film. And the day of the school trip they were buddied up together and Sarah, as she was want to do when she was nervous just started talking and talking, with no regard for the babel coming out of her mouth. She had made something of an ass of herself, mainly by worrying that she wouldn’t make a good impression on Julia. But what was worse was that everytime she ran into Julia Stiles afterwards, Julia, who remembered her, would exclaim, “What are YOU doing HERE?” as if she wasn’t worthy of occupying the same space.
It was that distinct feeling that Sarah got when she was in Chicago after the breakup, that Chicago, for all of it’s splendor wasn’t ready to share itself with her.
So she left.
And now at 4:37 in the morning, driving a cab over the bridge for the second time that night, she had the distinct feeling that maybe she had been wrong to leave, wrong to try to accomodate a whole city, that maybe, Brian should have left, or that she should have gone to grad school, because atleast there she could be lost and seem like she had a purpose, instead of having to make embarrasing calls to her mother explaining that “Yes mom, I know it’s not normal to drive a- I know I can do bett- No, but, its-”
But at that exact moment where all of her worries were coming to a head, she happened to see Julia Stiles trying to hail a cab in the middle of a cold, wet street. And as if by providence showing her how far she had come, and how things can line up perfectly, she sped passed Ms. Stiles covering her in a huge muddy puddle, for once feeling like this new city was telling Sarah, yes, she belonged. She finally truly had a home.